Music History

Remembering Kit Kamien

Kit Kamien at the recording studio (Source: Kit Kamien and the Backroom Players)

“I personally want to try and change the stereotype of what somebody in a wheelchair is like… I want to be judged not on my disabilities but on my abilities. I think people get frightened by the wheelchair… It’s a powerful visual symbol, but it’s not a symbol of defeat. It’s a tool I use to help me accomplish my goals. Just by climbing into the wheelchair, I don’t have to surrender my sexuality, my sensuality, my good sense of humor, or anything," said Kit Kamien, a Bethesda musician who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 26, to The Washington Post in 1987.

"Skyrockets in Flight:" Starland Vocal Band Launched from D.C.

The Starland Vocal Band in 1977, the same year they won 2 grammys for their 1976 debut album, which included the song "Afternoon Delight." (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The soundtrack of the summer of 1976 was a special one. Just after the USA celebrated its Bicentennial, one unlikely song, with its folksy style and airtight harmonization, soared past the countless disco tunes to the number 1 spot on the Billboard charts. No matter how you feel about it, “Afternoon Delight” was perhaps the perfect way to celebrate our independence. With lyrics referencing “skyrockets in flight,” the song (and the band behind it) has a very strong connection to the Nation’s Capital.  

It all started in 1974, when musicians Bill Danoff and Margot Chapman stopped at Clyde’s in Georgetown for a meal...  

Washington's "Official" Song

From left to right, Jimmie Dodd and his wife, Ruth, are presented with a record of "Washington" by James H. Simon.

What songs come to mind when you think of Washington, D.C.? Maybe Go-go music, or patriotic Sousa marches? Then of course there’s the “official” song, that instantly recognizable classic— “Washington,” by Jimmie Dodd (Yes, the composer is the same grown man who went on to lead the Mouseketeers in the original “Mickey Mouse Club” in 1955).

Doesn’t ring a bell? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Rare Essence Go-Goes On

Rare Essence Logo (Source: DC Library's Go-Go Archive)

“There ain’t no party like an R.E. party, cause an R.E. party don’t stop.” Rare Essence, known around the DMV as “the most wickedest band alive,” has been one of the region’s most popular go-go acts for over 40  years despite several setbacks which could have easily ended the party.  

WHFS Sells Out the Deejay

WHFS deejays Damian Einstein (far right) and Weasel (front) pose with musician Jesse Colin Young (second from right) and an unidentfied record executive (far left) at WHFS headquarters in Annapolis, MD in 1983.  (Photo source: Handout photo/Steve King).

On June 11, 1989, 8,000 WHFS 99.1 listeners crowded into the parking lot in front of Joe’s Record Paradise in Wheaton, Maryland for an eight hour concert to protest, station owner, Duchossois Inc.’s, decision to remove Damian Einstein from the airways.  Damian introduced the DMV to the newest music before it exploded on the national scene, and his sudden absence from the airways shocked WHFS’s most loyal fans who feared that Duchossois intended to move on from the progressive rock format. Centered on the freewheeling deejay, the progressive rock format defined WHFS defined the station since 1968. 

Fans were right to be concerned.  Over the course of the next decade, WHFS ditched the deejay for “gold-throated “on-air personalities who aired songs from corporately manufactured playlists.  While these changes initially earned the station a score of new fans, by the end of the decade, it was clear that WHFS lost the loyal support of their “bumper-stickered fans” who felt as if they lost a friend.    

The Jewel of U Street Reopens: The Lincoln Theatre

“The restored Lincoln Theatre, once a premier African-American entertainment venue, Washington, D.C.” (Photo Source: The Library of Congress) Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. The restored Lincoln Theatre, once a premier African-American entertainment venue, Washington, D.C. United States Washington D.C, None. [Between 1980 and 2006] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2011636050/.

After the 1968 riots ravaged U Street, the famed Lincoln Theatre fell into disrepair. On the evening of February 4, 1994, however,1,200 invited guests attended a reopening gala for the Lincoln following a massive restoration project. For the first time in over 25 years, the burgundy curtain was rising on the Lincoln’s 38-foot-wide stage, and guests in attendance that night said that entering the restored theatre was like “stepping back in time.” 

Roberta Flack in 1971. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Arlington's Roberta Flack Gets Her Start at Mr. Henry's

Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Roberta Flack started playing the piano at an early age. When she was five, her family moved to the Nauck community in Arlington and she took up the organ, lending her musical talents to Macedonia Baptist Church. At 15, she entered Howard University with a full music scholarship and, by 19, she was a college graduate seeking.

She accepted a position in a segregated school district in Farmville, North Carolina and wound up being the only music teacher for 1300 students, kindergarten through 12th grade. “I lost 40 pounds and almost had a nervous breakdown but we did some beautiful things that year.”

Flack returned to Washington and taught at Rabaut Junior High School and Brown Junior High School. In the evenings, she started performing – first at the Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights and then at Mr. Henry’s, a Capitol Hill nightclub at 6th and Pennsylvania Ave, SE, which was owned by Henry Yaffe.

The World Cup is in Brazil, but the Bossa Nova Craze Started in DC

Brazil, the site of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, is known for transforming the game of soccer with the free-wheeling offensive style that its great players pioneered. But Brazil also has another creative export that's nearly as famous as soccer virtuosos Pele or Ronaldo — bossa nova, a hybrid of jazz and Brazil's own African-influenced Samba music. Oddly, though, it was an album recorded in Washington, DC in February 1962, that helped popularize bossa nova as an international sensation.

Calling D.C. "the biggest city in North Carolina," music promoter Connie B. Gay helped transform the nation's capital into a country music hotbed in the 1950s and '60s. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

When Washington was Nashville North

There was a period, from the late 1940s until the early 1960s, when Washington, D.C. was a veritable Nashville on the Potomac, a mecca that provided country performers a chance to get their records played, and to perform before big audiences. The man who was most responsible for the District's country preeminence was a charismatic impressario who originally hailed from Lizard Lick, N.C. named Connie Barriot Gay.

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