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Music & Concerts

A conversation with Vanessa Williams

Actress/singer in D.C. for Howard Theatre double-header



Vanessa Williams, gay news, Washington Blade

Vanessa Williams has dabbled in so many fields, she says she’s always intrigued to find out where fans recognize her from. (Photo courtesy the Howard Theatre)

Vanessa Williams

DJ Baronhawk opens

Friday, March 10

7:30 and 10 p.m.

Howard Theatre

620 T St., N.W.


Star of stage and screen Vanessa Williams makes her Howard Theatre debut performing two shows Friday evening (March 10).

Williams, whose career spans 30-plus years, is known for her roles in the TV series “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives” along with motion pictures such as “Soul Food” and “Eraser.” Along with her film credits, she has appeared in many Broadway shows and released six solo albums spanning a multitude of hits.

Vanessa has just wrapped up a new series on VH1 entitled “Daytime Divas” and is hitting the road this month for a handful of concert dates.

During a phone interview Monday while in Minneapolis promoting her spring clothing line for Evine, Williams talks about performing, still being starstruck and her signature song, “Save The Best For Last.”

WASHINGTON BLADE: Friday brings you to the Howard Theatre for two shows. Are you looking forward to your first time at the historic venue?

VANESSA WILLIAMS: I’ve been doing dates for a long, long time and it’s always great to do different venues. Every room has a different feel. That’s why live and theater is so exciting because the audiences are kind of informed and I switch up the set on how I feel the audience is leaning. I may do some more R&B if the audience is more of an urban crowd. I might do more Broadway or standards if it’s a benefit or a gala. It’s always curious to see who ends up showing up and tailoring the show to what I feel is going to be their likes.

BLADE: Do you prefer theaters to clubs or outdoor arenas?

WILLIAMS: You know, each venue is a unique experience. My first experience on tour was in 1997 with Luther Vandross and we did arenas. It’s a huge operation and everyone has their tour buses and we’re all pow-wowing before the shows and in-between shows, eating and exercising together. It was a like a little village camping out every time we set up in a different city. That was really wonderful and I have so many great memories of that. I love doing outdoor venues. It’s the summer time and smelling the barbecue off in the distance. It’s hot and balmy but people are in their picnic chairs ready to enjoy the day. That’s a whole different kind of thing. The breeze is blowing through your hair and it’s a lot more casual and relaxed. Then there’s the concert venues where I do symphony dates and I have a full orchestra behind me and feel very professional and classy. It’s also another opportunity to do a different set and do some Broadway stuff with the full orchestra. A theater allows me to kind of interact with the audience in a very intimate way so they can hear the hits, they’re not blasted away by the huge speakers and they can sing along and have a personal experience.

BLADE: One of the last times you were in D.C., you performed for Diana Ross at the Kennedy Center Honors. How did that come about?

WILLIAMS: I’ve done two Kennedy Center tributes. One for Tony Bennett and I did “The Best Is Yet To Come,” which was amazing, then I got the call to do Diana Ross and sang “Touch Me In the Morning.” Hanging out with her afterward at her table with her kids, she asked me if I wanted to buy her house in Greenwich and I was like, “It’s OK I got my own house about 20 minutes away, I’m cool” (laughs). I worked with her on Motown Returns to the Apollo in ’85 and I was playing Josephine Baker and sang “La Vie en Rose” and I think she played Billie Holiday. She was definitely there and that was the first time I met her.

BLADE: Do you still get Starstruck?

WILLIAMS: Oh yeah! There’s plenty of people that are legendary that walk into a room and truly have a presence and take all the air out of the room. I remember the first time I was at acting class out in L.A. studying with Donna Strasberg and one of her dear friends was Sophia Loren and I just couldn’t breathe. She was not only stunning, but she’s one of those movie icons. I saw her couple years later and age for her I guess stopped years ago, because again — she’s stunning and so elegant and has such a presence. That was the same thing I felt when I first met Lena Horne and I could barely speak and she goes “It’s OK honey, it’s OK.” (laughs). I definitely still get starstruck.

BLADE: Do you feel your music career is sometimes overshadowed by your acting career?

WILLIAMS: No. I think there’s a time and season for everything. Particularly when I first started recording, I was 25 years old, had one child and we’re talking 30-odd years later and I’m still in the game. Whatever presents itself to me at the time, I’m up for the challenge. I just finished doing a series for VH1 and it’s kind of coincidental because I started out in my recording career hosting a show for VH1 called “The Soul Of VH1.” Twenty years later I’m back on the network playing a character in a series so it’s nice to be able to do so many different things and have options. I’ve always been able to come back to my music, Broadway, television and find a home in a show that seems to be perfect.

BLADE: You’ve done pretty much everything in your career. How does it feel to have different generations recognize you for different things? Some know you as Miss. America, others as Wilhelmina Slater (from “Ugly Betty”) — how does it feel to have such a broad fan base and continually gain new fans?

WILLIAMS: It always surprises me who recognizes me when I’m walking through an airport or outside walking down the street because being 53 years old, I assume people my age know me, but I got a whole set of young folk that know me from “Ugly Betty.” I go across the world and I was in South Africa and people recognized me for being a desperate housewife and in Australia they know my music. It’s unbelievable! “Elmo In Grouchland” for the young kids growing up knowing me as “The Queen of Trash.” I’m always curious to find out where they know me.

BLADE: Why do you think gay men are attracted to you?

WILLIAMS: Both my parents were music teachers and my mom had many gay friends. Some were teachers, hair stylists and lawyers. My father was completely open and generous and had no issues at all so I came from a family that was completely tolerant and exposed. When I started doing musical theater in high school and college, many of my friends were gay. They helped me choose music and amplified my diva ability to be a chanteuse and be a bigger sex symbol than I probable felt natural to be, but they highlighted it. I’ve always been surrounded by the gay community so there was no real transition for me. I remember my first grown-up gift was a bottle of Opium Perfume which I thought was so, so, so grown up! (laughs). It was from one of my parents’ friends who was a lawyer and drove a gorgeous Porsche and he had a beautiful apartment with padded silk walls and there was a sense of style and elegance that he represented. That was the first time I equated style and panache and femininity with a gay man.

BLADE: Your last album, “The Real Thing,” came out in 2009. Any plans for new music?

WILLIAMS: I would love to have new music come out. I think the past two or three labels I was talking to and in negotiations with, they fell apart. My genre is kind of disappearing. From going R&B to pop to I guess you could call it adult contemporary to smooth jazz is kind of dried up. There’s not many stations that play what’s normally been my lane for the past 10 or so years. It’s difficult to find a place in terms of a new label. The recording industry is completely changing so a lot of people are self-producing and self-distributing so I haven’t quiet figured out what my next move is, but I do have a lot of ideas and I’m definitely open to recording more music. I’d love to actually work with my daughter (Jillian Hervey) who’s a recording artist and doing incredibly well. To do one song with her would be great. The name of her band is Lion Babe and she’s killing it.

BLADE: Does she ever come to you for advice or you give her advice from your experiences?

WILLIAMS: Well you know, my kids are lucky because they’ve been behind the scenes of every genre. They’ve been in my dressing room when I was on the Broadway stage, on tour with me, in my trailer whether it’s television or movie sets. They understand how hard the work is, they understand the commitment, being professional, showing up on time and knowing your stuff. Jillian kind of got her sea legs — not sea legs, but her vocal chops/recording legs when she graduated from college and was looking forward to being a professional dancer. I had some dates in Japan and she said, “I wanna go,” and I said if you wanna go, you have to sing and she learned everything on the plane and learned the in-ear monitors and how to work the mic, do multiple shows a night and take care of her voice, so she started being on the road with me right after college and that was an easy transition.

BLADE: Are you surprised 25 years later that “Save The Best For Last” has becoming your signature song?

WILLIAMS: No. When I recorded it, I knew it was a great song, I knew that it would do. I had no idea it would do as well as it did. I guess those are the best surprises in life when you enjoy it, having a good time and it explodes and you’re not expecting it. That’s when it’s really sweet. It still holds up. When I sing it, people sing along and it’s like karaoke time. It’s great to have one of those signature songs as part of my repertoire.

BLADE: Do you feel there’s anything left to conquer?

WILLIAMS: Hmm … (pauses) … actually, I’m going to be directing season two of “Daytime Divas” for VH1 which is going to be exciting, so that will be my next step. The show’s airing later on this spring and I’m starring in it. It’s about a day time talk show called “The Lunch Hour” and I’m the producer and star of the show. It’s great to be back on television.

BLADE: What are you most proud of?

WILLIAMS: My kids. Ask any mother (laughs). I look at them and it’s great to see what you hope and dream for them all come to fruition. They’re all doing their own unique thing, they’re all very creative and I’m glad I could bring them into the world.


Music & Concerts

The Atlantis to showcase musical legends of tomorrow

New venue, a near replica of original 9:30 Club, opens next month



A look at the interior of the original 9:30 club. (Photo public domain/Library of Congress)

A new nirvana for music fans opens next month adjacent to the 9:30 Club. Dubbed The Atlantis, this intimate venue embraces a 450-person capacity – and pays homage as a near-replica of the original 9:30 Club.

The $10 million venue comes courtesy of I.M.P., the independent promoter that owns and operates the 9:30 Club and The Anthem, and operates The Lincoln Theatre and Merriweather Post Pavilion.

The Foo Fighters will inaugurate The Atlantis on May 30, which is also the 9:30 Club’s anniversary. Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl, during a concert in 2021, kicked off speculation that I.M.P was planning to open a new venue, noting that, “We’ll probably be the band that opens that place, too, right?”

Other big names on the inaugural 44-show run roster: Franz Ferdinand, Barenaked Ladies, Third Eye Blind, Spoon, and Billy Idol.

To thwart scalpers, The Atlantis utilized a request system for the first 44 shows when they went on sale two weeks ago. Within four days of the announcement, fans had requested more than 520,000 tickets, many times more than the total 19,800 available. All tickets have been allocated; fans who were unable to snag tickets can attempt to do so in May, when a fan-to-fan ticket exchange opens.

While I.M.P. oversees multiple larger venues, “We’ve been doing our smallest shows in other peoples’ venues for too many years now,” said Seth Hurwitz, chairman of I.M.P. “We needed a place that’s ours. This can be the most exciting step in an artist’s career.”

The 9:30 Club holds 1,200 people, while The Anthem has space for up to 6,000.

“This will be where we help introduce new artists to the world… our smallest venue will be treated as important, if not more, than our bigger venues. If the stories are told right, both the artists and the fans begin their hopefully longterm relationship. Its stage will support bourgeoning artists and the legends of tomorrow,” Hurwitz said. Hurwitz and the team developed a tagline for the new venue: The Atlantis, Where Music Begins.

Hurwitz got his start at the original 9:30 Club, originally located at 930 F St., N.W. He was an independent booker of the club for the first six years and then he bought it, and managed the move from its original location to its current location in 1996. The venue first opened in 1980.

Audrey Fix Schaefer, I.M.P. communications director, provides further insight. “We were missing small venues in our umbrella. Big acts don’t start in stadiums. We need a place for emerging artists and for the community to discover new acts. The Atlantis can help new artists grow.”

While design elements are still coming into focus, Schaefer says that the space will be intimate, with almost no separation between the artist and the crowd. “There will be energy on both sides of the stage,” she says.

Although The Atlantis is set to be a replica of the original 9:30, I.M.P. has spared no expense. Schaefer notes that the sound and light systems use the latest available technologies, similar to next door at the current 9:30 Club.

The Atlantis takes over the footprint of now-closed Satellite Room. The venue will have at least two bars flanking the stage; cocktails but no food will be available.

Schaefer notes that since its early days, 9:30 Club and I.M.P. “has always been a place where people are welcome. People come and feel safe with us.” 9:30 Club has hosted several LGBTQ Pride parties, the BENT dance party series, and other events for LGBTQ patrons. Particular acts of note during the kickoff run include Tegan & Sarah and Tove Lo.

The Washington Blade was a neighbor to the 9:30 Club at its original F Street location back in the 1980s. Despite their proximity, noise wasn’t an issue for on deadline nights, when Blade staff worked late hours.

“We would of course work later hours back then,” said Phil Rockstroh, a longtime Blade staffer, in a 2016 Blade interview. “Everything was typeset and done by hand without computers and fax machines so getting through deadlines was much more time consuming.”

Rockstroh said the noise wasn’t a distraction.

“It wasn’t too bad as older buildings were constructed more solidly,” Rockstroh said. “There was only one entrance to the building and you entered so far to the elevator that went up to the other floors and then continued down the hall to the entrance to the 9:30 Club. Frequently at night if I was coming or going, there were people spilling out the doors.”

“The Blade has always had a friendly relationship with the 9:30 Club,” he added.

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Music & Concerts

National Philharmonic to perform classical, contemporary works

Violinist Melissa White returns



The National Philharmonic will host “Beethoven’s 7th” on Saturday, April 15 at 8 p.m. at Strathmore.

Past and present will collide in this performance of contemporary works and classical masterpieces. Maestro Piotr Gajewski will direct Valerie Coleman’s “Umoja, Anthem for Unity for Orchestra” Violinist Melissa White will also return to the Philharmonic to perform Florence Price’s sweeping, melodic “Violin Concerto No. 2.”

Tickets start at $19 and can be purchased on the Philharmonic’s website.

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Music & Concerts

Bruce & Janet & John Legend, oh my!

Slew of iconic acts hitting the road after pandemic cancellations



Janet Jackson is among the iconic acts touring this spring.

Pop and rock icons are releasing their pent-up pandemic frustrations by mounting huge tours this spring and summer. After three years of canceled and postponed shows, everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Janet Jackson is hitting the road at long last. But save your coins because the TicketMaster algorithms are driving ticket prices to astronomical highs. Here are a few highlights from D.C.-area venues this spring. Although some of the iconic acts aren’t coming until summer — Beyonce, Madonna, Pink — several others are hitting the road this spring.

Betty Who plays March 10; Keyshia Cole headlines the All Black Extravaganza 20 Year Anniversary tour on March 18; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs come to town on May 3; Seal brings his world tour to town on May 10; and the beloved Pixies are back on the road with a new North American tour stopping here on June 10.

9:30 CLUB
Don’t miss Gimme Gimme Disco, an Abba dance party on March 18; Inzo arrives on March 31, followed by Bent on April 1; Ruston Kelly brings his The Weakness tour on April 17 along with Purr; The New Pornographers show on May 19 is sold out but there are tickets available for the May 20 show; The Walkmen have added a fourth show on May 23 because the other three shows are sold our;

Living legend Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are back with a vengeance, playing one of four area shows on March 27. (They’re in Baltimore the night before.) If you missed out this time, don’t worry, Bruce is playing Nats Park in September as well as at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. April 1 brings the R&B Music Experience, including Xscape, Monica, Tamar Braxton, and 112. Blink-182 comes to town on May 23. And this summer watch for Sam Smith to continue his hot streak, bringing his “Gloria” tour to town on Aug.4.

Janet Jackson makes her highly anticipated return to the stage this spring, arriving in our area on May 6 along with guest Ludacris. The LGBTQ ally and icon has promised new music on her upcoming “Together Again Tour,” which follows the pandemic-related cancellation of her “Black Diamond Tour.” Jackson also plays Baltimore’s newly renovated CFG Bank Arena on May 13.

John Legend plays two nights at Wolf Trap on June 2 and 3; Charlie Puth follows on June 4. Wolf Trap also hosts the Indigo Girls on June 7 just in time for Pride month. Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the Smithereens at the Birchmere on March 17. Fans of ‘80s alternative will be lined up for the Church also at the Birchmere at April 4, followed by Suzanne Vega on April 26. Amy Grant returns to the stage this spring and plays the Birchmere on May 2. Echostage plays host to a slew of buzz worthy shows this spring, including Ella Mai on April 8 and Fisher on May 12.

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