Written by DCMS Marketing Team Lead, Jade Dixon
DCMS Marketing Team Lead Jade Dixon had the pleasure of interviewing Shellée Haynesworth, who is an award-winning director, producer, writer, storyteller, and creator of the Black Broadway on U.
Who is Shellée Haynesworth?
Shellée Haynesworth is a multigenerational Washingtonian. Ms. Haynesworth has worked on the staff at Black Entertainment Television (BET), WJLA-TV (ABC affiliate in Washington, DC), and for projects delivered to HBO/Time Warner, PBS, TV One, and the local network affiliates, among others. She has filmed across the United States and internationally to produce and develop compelling long and short content to surface new stories, illuminate fresh histories and strengthen the ties that bind us in our common humanity. Her clients include Smithsonian Institution, USAID, Gates Foundation, PBS, AD Council, Black Entertainment Television, TV One, Whitman Walker Health, and HBO, among others.
What is Black Broadway on U?
The Black Broadway on U: A Transmedia Project was launched in February 2014, which is a groundbreaking multi-platform story and public history initiative created to amplify, chronicle, preserve and enhance, the under-told story, cultural legacy, local memories, and voices of Washington, D.C.’s marginalized Black community along with the historic greater U Street community when it was known as “Black Broadway,” a city within a city.
The goal is to amplify these black community voices and their “first hand” memories to preserve a truer, “authentic” narrative of this historic American moment in time and humanities experience to foster knowledge and civic engagement around the important role of social justice, arts, history, and culture — thus allowing communities of color to “learn from their past to REIMAGINE and REDEFINE, from the ground up, the 21st century African American experience” amid today’s rapidly changing demographic and cultural landscape in urban America, specifically in Washington, D.C.
During our interview, Shellée discussed her passion behind the Black Broadway on U project, her take on the local entertainment industry, and how it has impacted the Washington, DC culture.
What was the moment that encouraged you to begin the Black Broadway on U Project?
In Spring 2013, I was riding along the U Street Corridor with my grandmother. I had missed my turn on 14th and U Street because everything had changed drastically. As we were riding, we were talking about how the community was changing. During that moment, she would was telling me stories about her experience on U Street. Then it dawned on me that we never took a deep dive into her story of how she landed in D.C. She was a part-time barber along the U Street quarter. At that moment, it struck me that we need to hear these stories from our elders and this prominent black history that took place along the U Street Corridor.
What do you consider was a major factor in changing the dynamic of the city?
What killed the black business community was the construction of the metro in the early ’80s. The project took so long and it was very difficult to drive around the area. If you go to Ben’s Chili Bowl, you will see pictures of the metro development in the U Street area.
Besides the Lincoln and Howard Theater, Republic Gardens is the oldest club that was black-owned that still remains from the Black Broadway era. Someone has purchased the site, but no development has taken place.
COVID-19 has impacted a lot of black owned businesses in the Downtown DC area, especially, the music venues located in the U Street Corridor. DC Music Summit is an advocate for supporting and maintaining the presence of our local music venues. How do you feel about the venues being shut down? How do you feel this will impact the entertainment industry in the city?
I think it’s sad. It’s a lot of reasons but it’s because of COVID and the change of demographics. The people who patronize the jazz clubs and music venues have a different appetite for what they are seeking in terms of music that may not pair with the smaller venues. I think larger venues like The Anthem have impacted the smaller and intimate venues like The Bohemian Caverns and Twins. The music industry in general has changed as well. There are certain genres that are no longer represented on the radio anymore. Thank goodness we still have WPFW and WHUR 96.3, but that’s all impacting this whole shift in music and how we are processing the music.
Before COVID, I visited Twins and there were only three people which is sad. I think the people who are coming into the city are impacting it as well.
During the ‘80s and ‘90s, what were your favorite music venues in DC?
I would say Takoma Station, HR57, and Utopia on 14th and U. I used to go to Republic Gardens and Cafe Nema on U Street to catch live jazz and Neo-Soul performances.
Shellee is a true treasure to our local black community and we appreciate her time and efforts in making sure we embrace our ancestor’s stories and how they impacted our culture today. You can learn more about Black Broadway on U at their website http://blackbroadwayonu.com/. Please show your support and follow them on Instagram @blackbroadwayonu.