As a boy, Chuck shined shoes outside the Howard Theatre, getting 25 cents (sometimes one dollar) from the likes of Louis Jordan and Louis Armstrong. As a man, Chuck played there regularly until it closed in 1980. When we did a shoot two and a half years ago outside and inside the ruins, we talked about how great it would be when he returned to play there again after the Howard was renovated:
Alas, Chuck fell ill before that gig, and he died on 16 May, just a month after the Howard re-opened. But return he did – more triumphantly than anyone had imagined – to lie in state there as only he could, in the perfect place for his thousands of fans to come and pay their respect.
Inside, here’s how it looked (without the casket, but showing how it would be lit):
During the viewing, the large screens displayed a silent slide show that I produced using over 300 images from photographers Thomas Sayers Ellis, James Hilsdon, Marvin Joseph of the Washington Post, Chip Py, and me.
[See also: Chuck Brown, R.I.P.]