HANOVER, Md. — When a Washington, D.C., area musical group observed its 60th anniversary last year, the memories stoked lots of good feelings for at least one of its members — Lavenia Nesmith.
As the original female member and lead singer of The El Corols, Nesmith said her group is considered the original instrumental-styled, R&B band in D.C. “We like to think we’re the foundation for the go-go sounds so pivotal to D.C.‘s history, including groups like Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers,” she said.
Nesmith (pronounced Nee-smith) said her group was formed in 1959 in the basements of some of the neighborhood houses in northwest D.C. — specifically, the Shaw housing community. Most of the band members attended Shaw Jr. High School, McKinley Tech and Paul Laurence Dunbar high schools – all predominantly black schools.
“I’ve been really excited about singing since I was about eight.” Nesmith was nipped by the singing bug at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Northwest.
“My mother wasn’t excited about me joining the school band. She was more about me getting my education, but I learned the clarinet,” she said and joined the El Corols, which had a solid reputation performing at school and community functions, and even at Carr’s Beach, an Annapolis, Md. summer outlet that served black patrons who were prohibited from whites-only beach properties like Ocean City, Md. or Atlantic City, N.J.
“We featured a prominent horn section and performed with James Brown, The Temptations and Bobby Blue Bland, and because we were a female-led group we played tunes by Baby Washington, The Supremes and Mary Wells,” she recalls. In homage to their 60-year history, in April 2019, The El Corols were acknowledged by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and cited in the Congresssional Record by non-voting Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). “We were very honored to have received these very distinguished awards,” she said.
After Nesmith left the group to attend college and ultimately, get married and have two sons, the band continued to flourish and went on to record several 45 r.p.m. singles, including “Chick, Chick, Chick” which was penned by group member Tony Barge.
As the founder of Jazz in the Hills, Ms. Nesmith now produces jazz performances at The Other Barn, in Columbia, Md.’s Oakland Mills section. She’s also been lauded by Howard County officials for her contribution to the arts.
Having also performed at the prestigious Kennedy Center of Performing Arts, Ms. Nesmith released a solo CD in the winter of 2013. She’s currently working on two CDs.
For more information contact Lavenia Nesmith and the Oakland Mills Association at 301.596.5128.
Famous Black D.C. Musicians