music

"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...  

An Evening at the White House with Johnny Cash

The Nixons and the Cashes pose for a photo on the evening that Cash performed at the White House. Image Source: National Archives.

April 17, 1970 was a big day for the United States—President Richard Nixon even described it as the “proudest day of [his] life and in the life of the country.” That afternoon, the ill-fated Apollo 13 crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean and made it to safety. The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.

But the day wasn’t over yet. That evening, President Nixon would sit in the East Room of the White House for another cultural milestone: a legendary performance by country music star Johnny Cash.

Maryland was almost "Almost Heaven"

In the summer of 1970, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert were driving down Clopper Road to a family reunion in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Montgomery County was a much more rural place in those days, and the scenery inspired Danoff to repetitively sing “country roads, country roads, country roads.” 

Under normal circumstances, this burst of creativity might have gone nowhere, but the couple happened to be a duo of professional musicians. So, with the help of John Denver, they soon turned the phrase into the earworm we know today. 

Washington's "Official" Song

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.

When Autumn in D.C. Felt Like an Appalachian Spring

The Martha Graham Dance Company performs “Appalachian Spring” on the stage of the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium on Oct. 30, 1944. The Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division. https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2014/10/documenting-dance-the-making-of-appalachian-spring/

On the evening of October 30, 1944, hundreds of people filled the seats of the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress for the 10th  annual festival of chamber music. In the last performance of the night, the audience was transported to rural, 1800’s Pennsylvania through Aaron Copland’s musical masterpiece, Appalachian Spring. The ballet, featuring choreography by renowned American dancer, Martha Graham, enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive premiere that night, and became the most well-known piece of music commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge—the “patron saint of American music.”

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.    

Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band Disbands

Glenn Miller’s band plays for US and Allied troops in England, Jun-Dec 1944. (Photo Source: U.S. Air Force, Public Domain) http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196150/maj-glenn-miller-army-air-force-band/

On November 13, 1945, the National Press Club hosted a dinner honoring President Harry Truman at Hotel Statler. The 1,000 person guest list featured a virtual who’s who of Washington’s political elite, but more than anything, attendees looked forward to a performance by Glenn Miller’s famous Army Air Force Band. While festive, the evening was also bittersweet, for the band was without its leader. Nearly a year earlier, Major Glenn Miller, famous bandleader and trombonist, had gone missing over the English Channel, while traveling from England to France to give concerts to the troops liberating Europe. 

The March King Steps Down

Sousa and the Marine Band in 1891, the year before Sousa left (Photo Source: Library of Congress)

In the summer of 1892 Washingtonians had their hearts broken. After 12 years of conducting the United States Marine Band, John Philip Sousa, D.C. native and beloved conductor, submitted his resignation to the U.S. Marine Corps. He was leaving for Chicago, where he had accepted an offer to serve as musical director of a new military-style civilian band. The public of DC would not let their beloved Sousa go easy, and arranged a farewell testimonial concert where he could exhibit his grand conducting skills for an eager audience one more time. This concert served as the first of two farewell concerts for Sousa with the second taking place the very next day on the White House Lawn. 

The Humble Beginnings of the National Symphony Orchestra

The National Symphony at their inaugural concert on January 31, 1930 (Photo Source: Used with Permission from the NSDAR Archives)

At 4:45pm on January 31st, 1930 the “new and shaky ensemble known tentatively as the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington D.C.” took the stage of the recently finished DAR Constitution Hall at eighteenth and C streets northwest. Conductor Rudolf Schueller and the musicians were welcomed into the hall by vigorous applause from an audience of 2,000 music-loving Washingtonians who eagerly awaited the newly established orchestra’s first notes. Arriving at this moment of glory did not happen easily, or quickly for that matter. While Washington is typically considered a capital of arts and culture today, this was definitely not the case in the early 1900’s.

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