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Red carpet report: Howard Theatre's Grand Opening Gala
Updated 4/13/2012 1:05 PM ET
When: Thursday night

Where: Howard Theatre in Washington, blocks away from Howard University

About the event: After lying dormant for 30 years, Howard Theatre, a mainstay of black performers from 1910 through the late '70s, reopened to fanfare with a star-studded purple carpet and rousing benefit gala concert. The revitalization of the performance space matches the gentrification of Washington's Howard-Shaw neighborhood where the theater lives. "Here, you walked out you walked into family," comedian and activist Dick Gregory remembers about performing at The Howard decades ago.

Guest list: Bill Cosby, Wanda Sykes, Dionne Warwick, Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy, Al Jarreau, Savion Glover, Lalah Hathaway, Raheem DeVaughn, Chrisette Michele, Keb Mo, Leslie Uggams

A long time coming: Actress-singer Uggams, 68, recalled performing at The Howard when she was just 10 years old. "I couldn't work on Sundays because there was a child labor law," she said. "This (reopening) is remarkable in many, many ways." D.C.-bred R&B singer DeVaughn says he welcomes the revamped performance space sitting in his own backyard. "I get free tickets and first dibs on great performances!" he joked. But, he says he does realized the significance and history of the theater, which closed its doors when he was just a toddler. "This is where Marvin Gaye was discovered. This was the blueprint for The Apollo (Theater in Harlem). It's great for us as artists and musicians." Warwick, who performed her song Don't Make Me Over at The Howard 50 years ago, said the reopening should have happened sooner. "It's sensational. It's something that should not have taken as long as it did."

A family thing: Rhonda Ross Kendrick, daughter of singer Diana Ross and Motown founder Gordy, shared that among her famous family there are too many stories about The Howard to share. "This is such a historical moment," she said before watching her father be honored at the gala with the Howard Theatre Living Legend Award. "The careers that have been launched because of this theater is an amazing thing."

Memories won't fade: Best friends Gordy and Robinson remembered their time at The Howard with joy, with the Motown founder recalling Robinson's Justin Bieber-esque effect on the audience when he performed. "The audiences here were so in love with the Motown acts," Gordy said, sharing that girls would ask the green-eyed singer to sign various body parts. But, Gordy added, Robinson never left his friend behind when the girls came calling. "Smokey was always so popular and he always wanted me to get credit," Gordy said with a smile. "He was so generous to me." Robinson, who first performed as a "scared to death" 16-year-old at The Howard, also gushed about his friend Gordy. "We had a great time in this theater, so I'm getting a double dose of happiness," he said of the gala and Gordy's award. "He did so much for the world. He deserves every honor."

Laughs and music: Inside the glistening, state-of-the-art theater, which still has its original 1910 facade and intimate supper club-style seating, gala performance hosts Cosby, Gregory and Sykes kept the crowd in stitches as they relived the musical and performance history of The Howard. Musical acts Keb Mo, Chrisette Michele, Al Jarreau, Raheem DeVaughn and Lalah Hathaway sang everything from jazz standards to Motown hits. Sykes, who paid tribute to comedians from the past like Red Foxx and Moms Mabley told the audience, "The Howard Theatre has some old comedy ghosts hanging around here. … We don't die."

Posted 4/13/2012 11:41 AM ET
Updated 4/13/2012 1:05 PM ET
Smokey Robinson first performed at The Howard Theatre as a "scared to death" 16-year-old on the Motown bill.
By EVA HAMBACH,, AFP/Getty Images
Smokey Robinson first performed at The Howard Theatre as a "scared to death" 16-year-old on the Motown bill.