If you, like Duke Ellington, claim “an unquenchable thirst for sharps and flats,” be sure to drink in D.C.’s storied and thriving live music scene.
Born in Washington in 1899, the jazz great played many a gig in the city’s so-called “Black Broadway,” a stretch of nightclubs along and near U Street NW, where several other big-name African American entertainers also got their starts. (Think hometown boy Marvin Gaye, plus Ella Fitzgerald and The Supremes.)
Some of these historic venues still book top talent, like the famed Howard Theatre, which reopened in 2012 after a $29 million renovation and is now graced by a statue of Ellington perched on a treble clef and playing a curved keyboard.
Another native son, John Philip Sousa led the U.S. Marine Band for 12 years in the late 1800s, writing salute-worthy compositions like “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Semper Fidelis.” Admirers can visit the grave of the “March King” at Congressional Cemetery and enjoy free concerts around the region by the Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Air Force bands.
Foo Fighter frontman Dave Grohl grew up in suburban D.C., taking in hundreds of shows at the legendary 9:30 Club. Now he’s one of the acts drawing crowds there. He also helped found 14th Street’s indie club Black Cat, where his band has thrilled fans by popping in for a surprise show.
D.C.’s even got an indigenous sound: a funk genre called “go-go,” the syncopated, get-up-and-dance music played most famously by Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers on their hit “Bustin’ Loose.”
And just about every other genre can be found here, from classical masterpieces played by symphony orchestras to the latest pop singles belted out by headlining divas. Here are some of the top D.C. music venues. Take your pick, tune in and drink up!