Throughout February, WTOP is celebrating Black History Month. Join us on air and online as we bring you the stories, people and places that make up our diverse community.
The Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation kicked off Black History Month with an exhibit at the Harmony Hall Arts Center in Fort Washington, Maryland. This year’s theme was Black musicians and local music venues.
During the Jim Crow era, Black musicians were regularly excluded from performing at venues around the D.C. area. Thus, a network of performance venues was created called the “Chitlin’ Circuit.”
“We had the Chitlin’ Circuit because of segregation. So we created our own microcosm here where artists could thrive,” said Nicole Williams, chair of the Prince Geoge’s County House delegation.
The Chitlin’ Circuit was a network of urban and rural performance venues of various types and sizes. They provided a critical space for Black musicians and performers to share their talents.
The exhibit explores the history of these venues in Prince George’s County from the twentieth to twenty-first centuries.
Some of the artists featured included Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Patti LaBelle and the Blue Notes, Stevie Wonder, Joe Tex, Otis Redding and Gladys Knight.
Sydney Harrison, vice chair of the Prince George’s County Council, described the exhibit’s focus as “the heartbeat of our music in the DMV: go-go music, and from Chuck Brown to junkyard bands.”
Harrison added, “It brings us together so we can celebrate one another and start to understand what we must do as a community to ensure future generations continue to move forward.”
One woman, admiring the music posters on the wall, called it one of her “favorite exhibitions” she’s seen at Harmony Hall Art Center so far.
“The performance posters just move me, to see the impact African Americans have had on the music scene here in the DMV,” she told WTOP.
People walking by the exhibit described it as “very interactive,” noting how it featured video and “things you can touch and feel and sit and then absorb the exhibition.”
Harrison described music as something that “brings all of us together,” calling it “the heartbeat of who we are.”
As for the exhibit’s local significance, especially during Black History Month, Williams said “it just reminds us of the rich history that we have here in Prince George’s County.”
“This legacy is not just an African American story; it’s the American story. It’s a story of our music and our history in our past and today,” Artura Jackson, the historian for the Black History program, told WTOP.
The exhibit is open and will be available to the public until March 31, Mondays through Saturdays.
For more events in the county related to Black History Month, visit the Prince George’s County Parks and Rec website.