The city is home to the Washington Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, the National Symphony Orchestra (founded in 1931 by Hans Kindler), and the DC Youth Orchestra Program, (founded in 1960). The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is a nationally important venue for a variety of musical performances. Washingtonian magazine maintains a Washington Music Hall of Fame. The United States Marine Band, based in Washington, D.C., is the oldest musical group in the United States (formed in 1798, before the city's founding). The Marine Band's most famous conductor is undoubtedly John Philip Sousa, who composed many of the most famous American marches, as well as several musical comedies.
The earliest music of Washington, D.C. can be traced to the foundation of the U.S. Marine Band. Some fifty years later, in 1851, the city's first choral society, Washington Saengerbund, was formed. Other 19th century musicians included the minstrel singer and songwriter James Bland ("Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny"). In 1872, the Coloured American Opera Society formed.
Washington native John Philip Sousa was conductor of the U.S. Marine Band from 1880 to 1892. He wrote 132 marches including "The Washington Post" and "Stars and Stripes Forever". Sousa formed his own band after leaving the Marine Corps that performed 15,623 concerts worldwide.
Later groundbreaking musicians included James Reese Europe, ragtime musician Claude Hopkins, Lithuanian immigrant and vaudeville performer Al Jolson and Lillian Evans Tibbs, who became the first African-American opera singer to perform in a foreign country. The most widely renowned musician from 20th century D.C. is undoubtedly Duke Ellington, a jazz pioneer. Later D.C. jazz musicians included Charlie Rouse (saxophonist, with Thelonious Monk), Billy Hart (drummer), Ira Sullivan (tenor saxophonist) and Leo Parker (bop baritone saxophonist). Ahmet Ertegün, a Turkish-born jazz fan, came to D.C. at age twelve and later went on to found Atlantic Records. Todd Duncan was a D.C.-born singer who made history by being the first to play the lead of the opera Porgy and Bess; he later became the first black man to play Tonio in I Pagliacci. D.C. was also a home (and recording stop) for blues legend Jelly Roll Morton, country legend Jimmie Rodgers and rock & roll legend Bo Diddley. Local stars of the early part of the century include the singer Pearl Bailey.
In 1957, Elizabeth Cotten recorded for the family that employed her, which included a number of composers and musicologists. One song, "Freight Train", became a folk music legend. Charlie Byrd, a D.C.-based jazz musician, recorded an innovative album in 1962 called Jazz Samba with Stan Getz, helping to launch the bossa nova craze. By the middle of the 1960s, D.C. had begun to produce some major stars, like soul singer Marvin Gaye. Other musicians included John Fahey, one of the first "folk" musicians to gain national appeal, Peter Tork (of The Monkees), underground legend Tim Buckley, guitarist Link Wray, pop singer and songwriter Billy Stewart, country singer Patsy Cline, guitarist Danny Gatton, doo wop bands The Orioles (based out of D.C., though from Baltimore) and The Clovers, Scott McKenzie (known for "If You're Going to San Francisco"), R&B singer Ruth Brown, and country star Roy Clark.
During this period, Washington began to develop its own music scene, with a number of styles evolving by the end of the century. Some popular singers from later decades include Roberta Flack ("Killing Me Softly with His Song"), Root Boy Slim & the ex Change Band ("You Broke My Mood Ring"), singer-songwriter Tori Amos, Herb Fame (of Peaches & Herb), Van McCoy (disco producer, "The Hustle"), Toni Braxton, Ginuwine, Mya, Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters), Starland Vocal Band ("Afternoon Delight"), Joan Jett (heavy metal singer) and Nils Lofgren (guitarist for Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and Neil Young).
Washington is also home to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, founded in 1974 and part of the DC Public School System. Some other notable music education organizations which are located in Washington include the DC Youth Orchestra Program, founded in 1960; the Blues Alley Jazz Society, founded in 1985; and the Levine School of Music, founded in 1976.
Local singer Eva Cassidy, a native of Bowie, Maryland, died of cancer at the age of 33 but received posthumous international fame when several of her songs received BBC Radio airplay, though she was already well-known in the Washington area.
Washington D.C.'s Soul/Funk movement took shape during the mid 60s; about the same time the Doo-Wop craze came to a close, and "James Brown" became a household name. Artists such as Marvin Gaye, Roberta Flack, the “Maskman” Harmon Bethea, the DC Playboys, Sir Joe Quarterman, the Soul Searchers & the Young Senators (both known for their later Go Go influences), impacted more than just the regional scene. Lesser known groups such as Brute, Aggression, 95th Congress, and Scacy and The Sound Service, topped the ever growing club circuit. Local venues such as the Howard Theatre, The Mark IV and The Room, were known for hosting Soul and Funk bands on the regular. Monumental D.C. Soul Labels included Shrine and Cap City.
D.C. is also the home to the group Thievery Corporation, who are well known in the electronic music community for their fusion of downtempo and trip hop with lounge music and Brazilian music such as bossa nova. They founded the label Eighteenth Street Lounge Music, which is also based in Washington D.C.
The Washington area has many venues large and small for music performances. The MCI Center hosts many major concerts. The Kennedy Center is home to the Washington National Opera and the National Symphony Orchestra. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia hosts many performances and the Wolf Trap Opera Company. The Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland also hosts many national touring musical acts.
Venues in Washington, D.C. include and included: