On Its 35th Anniversary, Is The 9:30 Club Whitewashing Its History?

By Ally Schweitzer

D.C. venue 9:30 Club is attracting criticism for seemingly excluding black performers in an official retrospective exhibit.
D.C. venue 9:30 Club is attracting criticism for seemingly excluding black performers in an official retrospective exhibit. Heaton Johnson

The 9:30 Club has been in business for more than three decades, 20 of them on V Street NW, just steps away from the strip once called Black Broadway. Over its lifespan, the D.C. music venue has hosted thousands of shows with no apparent bias toward certain performers or audiences, other than those who bring money through the door.

So why is it that this week, as 9:30 Club celebrates its 35th anniversary, the venue is attracting criticism for allegedly whitewashing its multihued history?

The controversy began at the World’s Fair, 9:30 Club’s weeklong anniversary bash that kicked off Tuesday night. At the VIP reception, scores of people lined up to peruse an exhibit of 9:30 Club ephemera, spanning an impressive collection of photos, flyers, memorabilia and video from the club’s colorful past. But at least one attendee left the show with a searing question: Where was the black history?

Kristi Riggs, a stylist and fashion designer who lives in D.C., says she’s seen plenty of black artists perform at 9:30 Club over the years, including Erykah Badu, The Roots, Jill Scott and numerous hip-hop groups in the ’90s. But their memories are drowned in the sea of pale faces currently on display at the venue. That’s according to a post Riggs published on her Facebook page that has begun to circulate widely online.

“[I’m] so SICK of white people conveniently erasing the contributions of black people. Especially, the black people that have made you rich,” Riggs wrote. “I can count on one hand how many black faces were in the photo exhibit that covered the walls of the entire club.”

Riggs’ post has touched a nerve, racking up more than 100 comments. Many express disappointment. Some seem unsurprised. Others point to a need for more black-owned venues in D.C. A few call for a boycott of 9:30 Club.

Take a close look at the World’s Fair exhibit — open through Saturday — and you’ll find a colorful mosaic, but one that’s more white than brown. Flyers plaster the walls, harking back to punk and punkesque bands that played the venue once upon a time: the B-52’s, Einstürzende Neubauten, The Replacements, hundreds more. A screen plays live footage from a Jesus Lizard show. Fugazi’s gear occupies the stage.

Meanwhile, the bass guitar played by Trouble Funk’s Big Tony is displayed alongside Fugazi’s gear. Video of a recent Leon Bridges show plays on a loop, projected onto a massive cube. Tucked away in a green room, there’s a cardboard standup of the late godfather of go-go, Chuck Brown, not far from the hair dryer 9:30 Club purchased for the late godfather of soul, James Brown.

Artists of color aren’t invisible at the World’s Fair. But they are outnumbered.

Riggs is a longtime 9:30 Club patron who considers herself part of the venue’s extended family. She attended the exhibit’s VIP reception Tuesday night, hoping to reflect on nights she spent there — especially during the ’90s, when D.C. was still Chocolate City.

“I was really excited to go [to the exhibit] because the 9:30 Club has always been near and dear to my heart,” Riggs says in a phone call. “You always know when you’re headed to a show at the 9:30, it’s going to be a special night.”

But she was taken aback by the amount of space dedicated to white punk rockers. This 9:30 Club didn’t feel like the one she knew. “There were just so many voids, in terms of the timeline,” she says. Disappointed and hurt, she left the party, and typed out her feelings on Facebook.

To Riggs, the exhibit’s relative lack of melanin brought up bigger issues — namely her sense that today’s whiter, wealthier D.C. is overwriting its black history.

“Erasure is racism,” Riggs says. “[White newcomers] just want to pick it up from here, like, ‘Oh, thanks for creating this really cool city that we’re all clambering to move to — it’s really wonderful and colorful and fabulous. But we don’t need you anymore now. We’ll take it from here.'”

Particularly in the neighborhood 9:30 Club has called home for 20 years, that erasure seems ubiquitous. Once segregated, largely poor and African American, the U Street area is now lined with pricey residential buildings and teeming with white revelers most nights of the week. In an apparent act of swagger-jacking, an apartment building called The Ellington nods to the neighborhood’s jazz heritage, but shuts out lower-income residents with rents north of $2,500.

To many, the change stings — and sometimes it feels intentional. When black-owned U Street mainstay The Islander closed in 2013 following a bitter feud with new residents, owner Addie Green told the Washington Post, “It’s the kind of change I believe Washington wants.”

To some extent, 9:30 Club has participated in that change. I.M.P. Productions, the venue’s owner, took over operations of U Street institution Lincoln Theatre in 2013. The company immediately brought new life to the historically black, city-owned venue, which had gone underutilized for years. But the first bookings under I.M.P. control were white acts, a decision that seemed out of touch with U Street’s history.

About the all-white bookings, I.M.P.’s Seth Hurwitz said at the time, “We are going to try all kinds of things… But, ultimately, the audience for the Lincoln will be determined by what does well.”

Riggs suspects that as D.C. has grown whiter, 9:30 Club — whose spokesperson declined to comment for this story — has followed suit.

“As the population in D.C. became more white, their bookings became more white,” Riggs says.

For a venue with such a diverse history, she says, that feels like a slap in the face.

“Those African-American artists of all genres helped to cultivate the culture that is known as the 9:30 Club. It’s become known as a beacon of cool,” Riggs says. “And if they think that all happened because of punk-rock music, they’re absolutely mistaken.”

Top photo by Flickr user Heaton Johnson used under a Creative Commons license.

  • Mike Lastort

    There is no controversy. Black artists were very well represented at the 9:30 World’s Fair.

  • Sean Robinson

    as big as the club is, it couldn’t show representation of every artist (except the CD collection) but I can assure that r&b, and hip-hop are heavily represented and go-go is the heartbeat of the club. If you want to learn even more, the book goes into further detail. If you didn’t see one photo or video that represented hip hop and funk contribution, then go back.. It’s free, and look again. I’m African American and since the mid 80s, I have seen shows of all genres at the old club and new. I was very happy with this exhibit. I am going twice more if I can because I didn’t take it all in. Do yourself a favor , open your mind, try again.. Seriously. I don’t see the purpose of slamming an event that’s celebrating a place you say you practically lived at musically because you don’t see representation of the shows you went to. For years the venue has been celebrated by the black community you mention in DC and the entire music community all over the country. This is a well deserved celebration for a club that celebrates live music of all genres. And on another note, I really hope you, as a “writer/reporter” representing American University went to see this exhibit first hand. You say that Aftican American artists aren’t invisible at the exhibit but out numbered. What is the number to make you happy? I’m sorry, to make Ms Riggs happy? I do think that, while Ms Riggs has her freedom to speak her mind, but as a rep for WAMU, you are very irresponsible in showing your support. You go to the exhibit yourself, take it in, buy the book, then try and write the same article.

    • Lionfart

      Sup dude I live in DC, saw talib, banner, and BoB put a crazy show at the 930 club. I’m not going to lie the underground scene in the city is nice and a little stuck up. But artist from parts of the country that you want to see rarely come anymore. Wale does his new years day show some where else and actually she got a point dude seriously. I can’t even luck up on a good show. Last saw big krit at Howard theatre. Smh City is different.

      • UserName

        Your comment is more about the ongoing battle between IMP (the promotions/booking side of 9:30) and LiveNation (who buys venues like tic tacs and has contracts on lots of the bands). A lot of former 9:30 artists — bands who would always play the 9:30 while on the east coast, no matter who managed them– are not contractually allowed to play anywhere in the DC area other than The Fillmore, now that Live Nation owns that venue. But if the Fillmore isn’t the right size or is already booked or what-not, the bands end up bypassing DC entirely. Don’t be in such a hurry to point the finger because you’re pointing it in the wrong direction. The situation that you mention is all about corproate music squeezing out the independents. It has nothing to do with race.

        • Lionfart

          Thanks man, I never understood how it works. Now again maybe the scene in DC is punk rock. That’s obvious but at the same time. This is about community. It’s a lot to offer yet we all feel like we deserve representation. It’s basically like Do the Right Thing.

          • UserName

            It’s a bit sexist to assume I am a man, don’t you think? After all, you (along with the oroginal poster) are taking issue with the percieved lack of diversity.

    • Lee

      What gives you the impression she wrote this before visiting the exhibit? I agree that if she hadn’t seen it for herself, writing this would be grossly irresponsible considering some of the lines contained in the article. But nothing here leads me to believe she didn’t do her own homework as a journlalist.

      • Sean Robinson

        what gave me the impression is that she only refers to reviews from original person posting, ms riggs mostly.. “she was taken aback” ” erasure is racism, riggs says” ” to riggs, the exhibits relative lack of…” its all thru the article. Its like she wrote this article about a social media post. Since I wrote my say though, I have had a small dialogue with Ally and she herself had some personal input into this carnival,.. And I do believe that, while she may agree to a point about the lack of material in the carnival, she cant possibly believe that ms riggs really went thru the museum fully. Her statement alone that she didnt see ONE poster or video montage representing hip-hop/ funk from 1990 to now is just wrong. And really the worst part about it is ms riggs start and end to her rant. “Im so sick and tired of WHITE people conveniently erasing the contributions of black people”, and “I havent had a nigga wake-up call in a while, but i did get one tonight”. There was no need for that whatsoever.. ZERO.. she easily couldve made an intelligent observation and gotten her point across. And it bothers me that Ally supported this rant and gave ms riggs more attention..hell, Im ashamed of myself for giving it more.. but, Ive been going to the 9:30 since the mid 80s, and Ive been african-american my whole life, and I know Im family down there. im here to support my family, and live music.i was at the same VIP Tuesday night opening as well.as her, and I also donated contributions to the carnival and the book, and I also bought not one, but two books that celebrate in deeper depth the live venue that is The 9:30 Club. I was at every show she mentioned she saw and probably thousands more..two nights of jill scott, common, every chuck brown birthday party, as well as motorhead, dream theater, clutch, thievery corporation, chick corea, herbie hancock.
        So, i guess I do believe she saw this exhibit, but didnt write this article from her perspective but from the perspective of a one-time disappointed patron. I did request that she goes and writes her own article and review. and Im hoping that ms riggs goes back as well.. she has had plenty of examples given of what she has missed.

        • Sean Robinson

          and, I did want to add that ms riggs did call out her howard alumni for support, but Ive yet to see anything about this on a howard university tabloid.

  • hellraiserindc

    This is very easy show how wrong she was. The artist she listed only ONE of them, The Roots, played the old 930 Club on F St, and it was the in 1995. Everyone else played the V St location, while the bulk of the attention of the anniversary are about the F St club.

    Erykah Badu didn’t play the 930 Club until 1997 (so that’s the new location,) The Roots did play the last year of the old space twice, Common performed the new club starting in 98, WuTang first headlined in 2002 at the V St location, Goodie Mob was a support act in 98 (V St) and first headlined in 2010, Black Eyed Peas was a support act in 98 and headlined in 2001, Wyclef was in 98 at V St, Mos Def was 2004 at V St, and Jill Scott was in 2004.

    • Originalcutie

      Umm, you were able to name all the black acts? Hasn’t there been anywhere from 7-20 shows at the 930 club every month for the last 17 years or so at the new location? That anyone could possibly name them all seems to validate what she’s written. But, perhaps it’s simply that the market the 930 club serves reflects those who are highlighted in the 35 year celebration.

      • Lionfart

        You tell these clowns who like to part time racist, “see yall get some representation, so stop crying.”

        • hellraiserindc

          Take your ignorant ass elsewhere.

          • Lionfart

            Hahah, insult me I’m ignorant. It’s OK I’ve lived in this country for too long to not know the part time racism and the undercover segregation. Don’t believe me, go check the crowd out at a wizard, redskin games. Then go to a capitals and nationals game. All the black owned business like patty boom booms getting pushed out, but what do I know being a black man in this area. The few and far between hip hop, soul acts. Man you know what, I’m losing this. You’ll make something up to justify your claims, or be a brute and brass about things so it’s whatever. Lame indie punk scene is suffocating the area, you heard of Logic. I wonldnt be surprised if you didnt

          • hellraiserindc

            Being born and raised in DC, with both parents growing up in the city, yeah I’m familiar with Logic. Who owned Republic Gardens? Did they get pushed out too? You’re being ignorant because you’re looking at things at a color level, not at a human level. Music is art and a community, regardless of one’s skin color. Embrace that.

          • Lionfart

            I look at this city in many ways. I have been to indie shows at other spots. I mean 930 really has fallen off. They even canceled the rock the bells out here. I went to it before but. I guess hip hop out here is not popular. (gosh this is funny) well anyway. My dad construction worker would get tickets to the Nats games when they were started up. Gosh RFK was empty so was Navy Yard when it was first built. All of a sudden two players get drafted and now Nats stadium is hard to get tickets too. Nats stadium is packed full of fans. Naw during post season time we see how great the DC fan base is. Gentrification is real man, neighborhoods are changing.

          • UserName

            ^^ This post makes no sense.

          • stately_wayne

            The United States is about 75% white- entertainment as a whole will be about 75% white. my second favorite player on the Nationals is Latin and my third favorite is black. You don’t want minority representation where one out of 5 people in sports or media is black, you want something else you’ll never get.

          • Lionfart

            I mean cool, I would just. Like to. See more local guys get featured in small spots like, the black cat, or rock n roll hotel. I’ve done stuff over there. I know how America is. I don’t know what it is I will never get? What does that even mean?

      • hellraiserindc

        No, I specifically listed the ones she was saying should have been represented but didn’t get any attention, and that’s because none of them had played the old F St location as headliners or even support acts. That’s why she’s wrong. She’s crying wolf over her not realizing what the event was primarily focused on. I’m wondering if she even actually attended it.

    • Lionfart

      Yeah bro, the amount of blacks to white acts is kind of bad, the ratio is super bad dude. Come on it feels systemaatic

  • hellraiserindc

    Someone just wanted some attention for sure…she got it. I hope her hair business picks up.

  • stately_wayne

    One thing I find very weird is when black people refuse to let white people celebrate what they created. There were many black artists represented throughout the 9:30 Club World’s Fair, but in the 1980s the club was overall a white rock and roll club. The 1980s was the same era when Kilimanjaro was outbidding the 9:30 Club for touring reggae bands. If black clubs were outbidding the 9:30 to put on shows by black artists then… should the black artists have played the 9:30 for less than they could make elsewhere? The result of such competition between clubs means that the 9:30 club didn’t have a history of putting on more than 1-2 bands of color per week so 4 out of 5 artists who ever played there were white. My question to this whiner is this- what’s so wrong about white musicians that you have to complain about them?

    • Kendall Segars

      Ahem….the DC Punk scene, if that is what is the focus of the World’s Fair is UNDOUBTEDLY replete with black acts, in fact acts that are both from the area and elsewhere, including: DEATH, Bad Brains, 24/7 Spyz, and Fishbone and many, many more. The Foo Fighters documentary did an awesome job discussing the debt that the entire PUNK scene owes to many DC black bands. A Band Called DEATH, many would say laid the foundation for the Ramones and the Sex Pistols and were actually pioneers of the genre.

      Ms. Riggs would be accurate in this under representation, EVEN if it were limited to these types of bands…..

      • stately_wayne

        The DC punk scene was 95% white. Death is from Detroit, not DC, and were a band briefly during the era of the Stooges 6 years before the 9:30 opened, and had no influence on anyone because their single was not distributed outside of Detroit. I really need to correct you- no one in the world knew about Death in the same way no one knew about the Imperial Dogs or Rocket From the Tombs- these bands didn’t have a record distributed nationally in 1974- they were not an influence on anyone until a decade or more later when their records were uncovered by collectors.
        You must be thinking of the Bad Brains who were from DC, but moved to NYC in 1982 (82!). They influenced everyone but also were influenced by others too.
        As long as everyone has opportunities to start bands and attend shows there’s nothing wrong that the 1980s shows were only attended by white people- except for Lefty. I went to shows where she was the only black person in the room.
        And if you don’t know Lefty then you’re going to have an incredible 15 minutes researching who she was.
        I went to Celebrity Hall once where my friend and I were the only white people in the club. I went to many shows where there were no black people in attendance. This is how life was in the early 1980s, it was a different era.

        • DCSuperSid

          I agree with stately_wayne – the 9:30 Club mainly has and had a white audience, and there’s nothing wrong with that. People are referring to a small percentage of black acts that played there and they want to make it seem like it was significant. I’m black and I enjoy all music, including punk. But it’s not my favorite genre and through the years I very rarely went to the 9:30 because they didn’t have the music I preferred. The people who are upset about the lack of black bands in the exhibition are on some type of post-racial revisionist history crusade.

    • Lionfart

      What? Celebrate what you create? So every holiday in this country is for what race of people, oh it’s for US citizens. At least that’s what the government wants. Yet on a state level local business will be sure to let citizens know which ones they are targeting. I love hip hop, local scene can get a little snoby but other than that what can I do if I enjoy hip hop, soul, RnB music. Star wars came out the one protagonist is black it’s a uproar, white washed films come out its no big deal. Please man chill out if someone of color feels they are under represented. They might have a point it’s happens in this country to no end

      • stately_wayne

        Star Wars had no anti-Finn uproar- he’s a beloved new star and the film may end up being the #1 box office draw. There was no star wars controversy- the audience loved it. My question is this- who benefits to claim there’s a controversy that doesn’t exist?

        • Lionfart

          OK buddy no antiFinn uproar. Where are you getting your articles from. It was a uproar over a black man being a possible jedi. Anyways we can choose to do what we want. Like I enjoyed the prequels everyone else hates them. 2 billion dollar in 2 weeks. Wow that’s a lot of people to watch this movie. So not everyonne will share the same opinion. So it’s resulted in this huge group think. Where no one even recognize the flaws of the film. Which are many. I study this in school. I know what’s wrong with the script. The bad dialogue sorry plot, half done characters, rehashed ideas, no motivations for characters, and this is a set up movie. Force awakens and it’s treated like Devil May Cry. “Devils never cry” so corny. Force Awakens and they barely talk about the force. Should been more honest with the title. Star Wars episode 7 Twilight force! Opps umm how about the Awakens the Hunger games. You know what I’m sorry. But yeah. You liked Rey as a character good go buy more Rey stuff. But do you know anything about her? Nope

  • JessicaWood

    Not really sure what she was seeing, BUT considering the actual % of black PUNK and ALTERNATIVE music 930 did an amazing job at representing all music in the DC area. As a non white human who grew up in the area I fail to see the validity of her argument.

  • thefrontpage

    Simply put: This is a non-story, a non-issue. The whole thing is inane. It is a non-story.

  • thefrontpage

    You can’t base a non-story dumb story on one ignorant person’s rant. The 9:30 Club exhibit has items from Chuck Brown, Trouble Funk musicians, Leon Bridges and James Brown–all of whom are, last we checked, black folks!! This is, again, a complete, 100 percent non-story. And, for the record: Most of the acts who have played at the 9:30 through the years are white. That’s because the 9:30 club has mainly rock and pop acts, most of whom are white. Thus, most of the acts are white. That is not racist, people! It’s reality! You can’t base a non-story on one person’s ignorant rant.

  • UserName

    Sloppy journalism, and really kind of sad that no one bothered to approach the club itself with their “concerns.”

  • Jeremy Synz

    BOO this article is shameful. boooooo

  • Clay Socha

    Ally Schweitzer… seriously? Is Riggs a friend of yours, or do you just enjoy feeding trolls on Facebook? You’ve used the Facebook rant of one woman as the catalyst to write a story on a separate issue entirely: Gentrification. You’ve made something out of nothing. How embarrassing that WAMU is now associated with such CLICKBAIT! Did you even visit the exhibit yourself or just take Riggs at her word? Why did you fail to mention that the majority of those 100+ facebook comments included various pictures and recollections of how completely WRONG Riggs is on this topic? Same with everyone messaging and showing support for Riggs. The rant is simply NOT TRUE. Go and see the exhibit for yourself, watch all the videos all the way through instead of just seeing the “white devil” on a screen and moving to the next exhibit. Then, come back and write about YOUR independent observations.

    Also, what’s with the trend lately of reminiscing over the “good ole days” when DC was a LESS diverse “Chocolate City?” THAT is racist… the goal should be a city that is inclusive of ALL people, races, demographics, beliefs.

    Really sad, terrible “journalism” Ally… You’ve lost me as a reader of Bandwidth for sure. Next time you want a soapbox to write about gentrification, do us all a favor and don’t scour facebook for a “story.”

    • Tone Walters

      Be lost then…There is a valid discussion about the whitewash of DC and underappreciated cultures/norms. Yet, I actually enjoyed the exhibit cause I went with different expectations and intrigued to go after Kristi strong statement.

  • Mike Lastort
  • Mike Lastort
  • UserName

    The first artist shown in this Channel 4 coverage is the clip of Gene Hawkins of Lucy Brown that’s part of the loop. Is Channel 4 part of the conspiracy too? http://www.nbcwashington.com/video/?_osource=SocialFlowFB_DCBrand#!/news/local/9-30-Club-Celebrates-35th-Anniversary-With-Worlds-Fair/364700111

  • UserName

    Gene from Lucy Brown. Mainstays at the Old 930. Gene was also in The Now. I saw a few flyers of theirs at the exhibit. No video because I don’t think any video exists.

  • CLM3Chip

    I literally went to the 9:30 Club 35th anniversary exhibit earlier tonight (Friday 1/8), and I thought black musicians were pretty well-represented within the displays. The 9:30 Club has always leaned more in the direction of indie rock acts, most of whom are white, so it is appropriate that the majority of displays showed white acts. Having said that, there were a number of displays showing the many non-white acts, like Trouble Funk, James Brown, and Chuck Brown, at the club, and the book excerpts in this week’s Washington City Paper have various remembrances from and about black musicians. (I ordered my book on-line for delivery, so I won’t be able to read it in full until it is sent to me about a week from now.)

  • Tone Walters

    See for yourself is what I encourage. #Facts

  • Scott Crawford

    This isn’t a story—it’s sensationalistic and lazy journalism.

  • Pingback: Marc-et Watch: Netflix, Justin Bieber, and the 9:30 Club()

  • jleland

    It appears the “attracting criticism” and “controversy” came from one person.