Remembering June Norton: Sang with Duke Ellington, Broke TV Race Barrier

Posted January 23, 2015 by Kent
Categories: History, People

Tags: , ,

June Norton 1950(A photo of June Norton from the Afro-American, 1950)

Several years ago, then Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa Kralovic (ANC 1A01) told me about a former resident of 1435 Perry Place, NW, named June Norton. Kralovic told me that Norton had performed with Duke Ellington and that she was highly regarded in the neighborhood. She also stated that she had moved to Maryland a few years earlier but had since passed. I was intrigued, and what follows is what I’ve been able to learn about her life thus far.

June Norton (1924-2004) was a singer with Duke Ellington and his orchestra, working with Ellington in 1949, 1950, and 1960. Norton was born in Alexandria, Va., and graduated from Cardozo High School and Howard University. Though better known for singing with Ellington, her most notable achievement was singing as part of a one-minute commercial for station WTTG-TV.

Norton was hired to sing commercials on television for a product aimed at such states a Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. She was singing at the Flame restaurant in Washington in the fall of 1961 when representatives from a local advertising agency heard her. The representatives had been looking for a black artist to break the television race barrier, especially in Washington which had a population that was estimated at more than 50% African American at that time. The commercial’s sponsors – the Beautycraft Plastics Company – reported that June Norton was the first African American woman in the mid-Atlantic region to appear on TV commercials beamed at the mass market in Southern states.

In recognition of Norton’s work in the commercial, she received the 1962 Achievement Award from the National Association of Colored Women and drew acclaim from the YMCA which presented her with their trophy as “Singer of the Year for 1962.” A local bottling company named her “TV Personality of the Year” and the National Association of Market Development bestowed upon her their 1962 Emphasis Award.

Norton’s voice was described as having the range and flexibility to put across the up-tune as well as the ballad. During the 1960s audiences could hear her perform at venues such as the Shoreham’s Marquee Lounge (1964), Twelve Devils, near the corner of Connecticut and Calvert streets, NW (1965), and Mr. Henry’s Georgetown (1968).

In the early 1970s, Norton engaged in work as a counselor for women offenders imprisoned for drug related and other crimes. This work was featured in an episode called Ebony Reflections that aired on WETA-26 in 1973. In 1993, June Norton, along with other former Duke Ellington vocalists Adelaide Hall, Joya Sherrill, Kay Davis, Maria Ellington Cole, and Dolores Parker, received a lifetime achievement award from the Smithsonian Institution.

June Norton passed away on October 30, 2004, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband, Thomas C. Cuff.

Best Bird Houses in Columbia Heights (1921)

Posted January 22, 2015 by Kent
Categories: History, Schools, Streets and Trees, Children, Historic Landmarks

Tags: , , ,

Wilson Normal bird houses

In revisiting the photo collections at the Library of Congress, I found the gem above. The photograph was taken on the afternoon of January 20, 1921, and shows a member from the American Forestry Association with children who were awarded blue ribbons for building  bird houses. The photo captures the event located on the western side of the Wilson Normal School. Today, the school is known as the Carlos Rosario public charter school and the location where the children are standing is part of the parking lot.

The construction of bird houses by the students was part of the week-long tree work exhibition at the Wilson Normal School which opened on Monday, January 17th, and ended on Friday, January 21st. While the exhibition had a large educational focus, the general public were encouraged to participate. In additional to the birdhouses and other pupil activities, the event included exhibits of trees, their diseases, insect destroyers, furniture of all kinds and essays on tree values.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the American Forestry Association was engaged in a nationwide referendum to determine what tree best represented America. Selecting the right tree was difficult. President Wilson weighed in during the survey stating that he was “quite unable to choose amongst the infinite variety and richness of American forests.”

The overwhelming result of the referendum among Washington school children was that the national tree should be the oak. D.C. children cast 7,004 votes for the oak – nearly twice as many as cast for the nearest competitor, the elm.

The entire vote breakdown in D.C. from school children in the 1921 American Forestry Association referendum follows:

  • Oak, 7,004;
  • Elm, 3,765;
  • Pine, 1,355;
  • Sugar maple, 1,392;
  • Apple, 1,145;
  • Hickory, 1,060;
  • Dogwood, 619;
  • Tulip, 328;
  • Walnut, 273;
  • Sycamore, 108; and,
  • Various others, 36.

Currently, the national tree of the United States is the Oak, which was chosen in 2004.

National Tree ballot

DDOT Adds Safety Improvements to New Hampshire Median @ Park Road/Monroe Street

Posted January 21, 2015 by Kent
Categories: DDOT, traffic

Tags: , ,

IMG_7954(New bollards installed to prevent drivers from hitting the median.)

I’m very happy to report that some bollards have been added to the south end of the median at New Hampshire Avenue where it meets Park Road/Monroe Street.

At the November 2014 meeting of ANC 1A, a resident made the commission aware of a problem with the intersection whereby eastbound drivers turning left onto New Hampshire Avenue often hit the median and blew out their tires. This was largely due to the the odd angle of the turn and the lack of visibility for the median.

I alerted DDOT to this issue on November 25th, and am pleased to see that they found a reasonable solution and took action. The photo below shows the median before the installation of the bollards showing chips and markings from vehicles hitting it.

New Hampshire Median

Wreath Laying at African American Civil War Memorial

Posted January 20, 2015 by Kent
Categories: History, National Monuments and Memorials

Tags: , , ,

There were a number of events held yesterday in connection with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday, a day when we reflect on both the history of civil rights and the work still left to be accomplished — as well as a day of service.

Start of wreath laying ceremony at the African American Civil Ward Memorial.

Start of wreath laying ceremony at the African American Civil Ward Memorial.

One of the events held yesterday was a wreath laying ceremony at the African American Civil War Memorial located at Vermont Avenue and U Street here in Ward 1. The ceremony began shortly after 11 a.m. and included a prayer, followed by a few words by  Frank Smith, Founding Executive Director of the African American Civil War Memorial (and former Ward 1 councilmember). The ceremony closed with those in attendance holding hands and singing We Shall Overcome.

Smith’s address referenced his own role in the civil rights movement and work with Martin Luther King, Jr., and how it was a continuation of the work left undone despite the passage of the 15th amendment in 1870 — which granted African American men the right to vote. By the late 1870s, especially in the south, state and local laws created barriers that prevented African Americans from voting. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 aimed to remedy this.

Prayer AACWM(Frank Smith with the Color Guard in prayer before Smith’s remarks.)

With this in mind, the wreath laying at the African American Civil War Memorial was humble in comparison to the debt owed to those who did their part so many years ago to help make the world a better place.

Below is a video of the ceremony.

Hillcrest Children & Family Center Event Successfully Kicks of 200th Anniversary

Posted January 16, 2015 by Kent
Categories: Children, Community, History

Tags: , ,

Yesterday, January 15th, the Hillcrest Children & Family Center Kicked off a year of celebrating their 200th Anniversary. Hillcrest was originally called the Washington City Orphan Asylum and founded with the help of First Lady Dolly Madison. I was honored to MC the event which was held at the Octagon House. I’ve included a link to the video for anyone interested in watching the event.

Hillcrest video

New Community Garden in Planning for Girard Street

Posted January 15, 2015 by Kent
Categories: Lawns and gardens


At last night’s meeting of ANC 1A, the Commission was presented with a proposal by residents in the vicinity of the 1300 block of Girard Street to turn a closed alley on the block into a community garden. The alley in question is on the north side of Girard Street between 13th and 14th Streets (about 1/3 the way to the east of 14th). The alley appears to have been closed for some time and has a fire plug blocking it at the street.

The garden would be created and built by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation and run by local residents. The space currently contains a number of trees and an assortment of vines and other small plants. The plan calls for an arborist to assess the health and species of the trees currently on the site. Non-native, invasive trees and smaller plants will be removed to create the garden. The large, native catalpa tree at the center-east of the lot will almost certainly remain and lend its name to the garden as Catalpa Garden.

ANC 1A voted unanimously to support the project and looks forward to seeing the plan move ahead.

Below is a plan of the proposal.

Catalpa Garden


Park View Christian Church (aka New Commandment Baptist) Officially on the National Register

Posted January 14, 2015 by Kent
Categories: Architecture, Development, Housing, Preservation

Tags: , ,
The Park View Christian Church photographed ca. 1920 (Image from Library of Congress).

The Park View Christian Church photographed ca. 1920 (Image from Library of Congress).

The old Park View Christian Church located at 625 Park Road was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Placed on December 29, 2014. A very brief history of the church was included in a March 2014 post along with two other landmark application announcements that you can read here.

The overall plan for the church property as of July 2014 is to incorporate the structure into a condo development that will have a total of 38 living units. The majority of the development will be on the adjoining parking lot which is currently vacant. The image below provides and idea of what that project will look like.

Perspective 1 625 Park Road(Rendering of 625 Park Road project by Arcadia Design)


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