Music History

"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.

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 4th, 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.

The first national television appearance of Elvis Presley, January 28, 1956. (Source: By CBS Television [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

When Elvis Played Washington

Elvis Presley made headlines when he showed up at the White House unannounced and offered his services to President Nixon to fight the war on drugs in 1970. It was an odd event, which led to an even odder photo. But the Elvis-Nixon meeting was memorable for another reason: It was one of only four appearances that Elvis ever made in the Washington, D.C. area.

Elvis' first visit to Washington was on March 23, 1956 — the same day, by coincidence, that his first full-length album, Elvis Presley, was released. Col. Tom Parker, who was in the process of taking over as the 21-year-old singer's manager, had close ties to Washington-based country disc jockey, manager and promoter Connie B. Gay, who booked Elvis to headline a floating concert on the S.S. Mount Vernon, a small ship that sailed the Potomac.

Lou Reed's Appearance at the White House

Rock singer, songwriter and guitarist Lou Reed, who died on October 27, 2013 at age 71, is best known as a lyrical chronicler of New York City's  debached avant garde subculture of the 1960s, a time when his band, the Velvet Underground, provided the soundtrack for artist Andy Warhol's druggy, gender-bending milieu.

But Reed also could claim an intriguing distinction in the musical history of the nation's capital.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee once was called upon to provide musical entertainment at the White House, at the request of a visiting foreign head of state. 

The Doors concert poster. (Photo source: Ebay)

Jim Morrison’s Not So Happy Homecoming

It was the summer of 1967 and The Doors’ single “Light My Fire” was racing up the Billboard music charts. The band found itself headlining large venues and even made an appearance on American Bandstand. But one date on the tour schedule might have stood out to front man Jim Morrison more than any other. (Not that he would’ve told anyone.)

On August 18, 1967, the band played an odd D.C. area double-header: a 7:30pm show at the National Guard Armory in Annapolis, Maryland, and a late night show at the Alexandria Roller Rink Arena in Alexandria, Virginia. It was the only time The Doors played two separate concerts at different venues in the same evening. And, for Morrison, it was a homecoming of sorts.

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