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This Interactive Exhibit Will Transport You to Black Broadway’s Heyday

It's part of a larger initiative to help preserve the history of U Street.

Duke Ellington and his Washingtonian Band, c. 1920s. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

There are few physical reminders left of the U Street corridor’s rich African-American history. Once home to jazz legends like Duke Ellington and frequented by Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald in the 1920s, U Street was nearly as important to the black renaissance as Harlem was.

Before that history gets lost amid the corridor’s rapid development, multimedia producer and third-generation Washingtonian Shellée Haynesworth is digitally preserving photographs, audio, and memorabilia from the era for her project, “Black Broadway on U.” Launched in early 2014, the project aims to bring Black Broadway back to life and educate Washington newcomers on the neighborhood’s historical significance.

Tonight at the Studio Theater from 5 to 8 PM, Haynesworth is debuting an extension of her initial project, a pop-up museum exhibit called Black Broadway on U: Echoes of an Era, DC Cultural Legacies and InnovationAs you move through the exhibit, you can scan old photographs on your smartphone via a virtual reality app to trigger interactive content. For example, when you bring up your phone to an image of Duke Ellington, the app will prompt an audio clip of Ellington talking about his very first composition, “Soda Foundation Rag,” which he wrote while working at a soda fountain on Georgia Avenue. Haynesworth calls exhibits like these “immersive storytelling.”

Eventually, Haynesworth wants to create an entirely virtual museum accessible online.

The exhibit is also part of Mayor Muriel Bowser Presents 202Creates, a showcase of the Districts creative economy led by the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment and the DC Commission on Arts & Humanities. To learn more about Haynesworth’s project, visit

Web producer/writer

Greta started as an editorial fellow in January 2016 and joined as a full-time staff member that August. She now works as a web producer and writer. She was previously an intern at Slate and National Geographic and graduated from the University of Missouri’s Journalism School. She lives in Adams Morgan.