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DESA  |  ABOUT  |  FOUNDERS

FOUNDERS

"The House that Peggy and Mike Built"

In 1968, Peggy Cooper Cafritz and Mike Malone co-founded Workshops for Careers in the Arts (WCA), which later evolved into Duke Ellington School of the Arts. As the Summer Workshop for Careers in the Arts grew in popularity in the early 1970s—expanding into a released-time program where schools throughout the District would send their kids for accredited coursework—it also outgrew its space. In 1974, after years of lobbying, Peggy Cooper Cafritz secured permission to turn the arts program into an arts school and found a building on R Street in Georgetown—the former site of Western High School.

Painting of Peggy Cooper Cafritz  and Mike Malone

When Duke Ellington died in May 1974, the school was named in his honor. The Founders envisioned a new kind of learning experience—a place where District of Columbia youth, no matter their race, religion or socioeconomic backgrounds, could receive world-class arts training alongside rigorous academic instruction.

Exterior of Duke Ellington School of the Arts

PEGGY COOPER CAFRITZ

Peggy Cooper Cafritz (1947–2018) was a trailblazer in the fields of art and education for over five decades. An amazing supporter of artists of African descent, she profoundly shaped the landscape of contemporary art in the United States. 

She was born Pearl Alice Cooper on April 7, 1947, in Mobile, Alabama. to a prominent Catholic family. She moved to D.C. in the 1960s to attend George Washington University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in political science and later, a law degree. After co-founding DESA, she continued to serve the school and its non-profit fund-raising affiliate, the Ellington Fund, in numerous positions. Cafritz served on the Executive Committee of the D.C. Board of Higher Education from 1972-1976, which implemented the merger of Federal City College and Washington Teachers College into the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). From 1979-1987, she chaired the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and in 1993 President Bill Clinton appointed her to serve as Vice Chair of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

Cafritz was the youngest person ever selected to serve as a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. She worked as a programming executive for Post-Newsweek and a documentary producer for WTOP-TV from 1974-77, earning both Emmy and Peabody Awards for her documentary work. Her work as an arts reviewer on WETA-TV's "Around Town" also earned her an Emmy Award. Cafritz worked to develop a dramatic literary series for the Community for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Corporation from 1977-79 as Executive Director of the Minority Cultural Project, a joint venture between Harry Belafonte and WQED/Pittsburgh.

In November 2000, on a platform stressing the importance of academics, athletics, and the arts, Cafritz ran for President of the D.C. Board of Education and won.

Old photo of two adults
Mike Malone

ALVAN D. MALONE

Alvan D. Malone known as Mike Malone (1943-2006) was an enduring, energizing presence in Washington's black theater community for nearly four decades. Mr. Malone, a choreographer, director, and teacher, inspired a generation of performers and brought positive portrayals of black life to audiences throughout the country and abroad. He helped usher in the black theater movement in Washington in 1968 and create institutions that trained young people in dance, drama, and the visual arts. He was known for staging “Black Nativity,” in theaters around the world, including Paris, Hong Kong, New York, and Ohio. The production has become a holiday tradition in many locations, especially in Washington, D.C. The director proclaimed the play to be a testament to the power of gospel music which tells the story of the Nativity through a combination of African-American scripture, poetry, dance, and song. 


Mr. Malone inspired thousands of students at DESA where he served as an artistic director and teacher until his death at the age of 63. As professor of musical theater in Howard University's Department of Theatre Arts, Mr. Malone groomed scores of students, some of whom went on to professional careers, such as Debbie Allen, Lynne Whitfield, and Anthony Anderson. 

Duke Ellington

DUKE ELLINGTON

Duke Ellington (1899-1974): Artist, Learner, and Leader. Considered one of the greatest jazz composers of all time, Duke Ellington had an enormous impact on the popular music of the late 20th century. Among his more than two thousand songs are such hits as “In A Sentimental Mood,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good,” and “I’m Beginning To See The Light.” For almost fifty years he toured the world as a band leader and piano player. Today his recordings remain among the most popular jazz of the big-band era.

 

By naming one of his jazz bands The Washingtonians, Duke Ellington made his home part of his persona.  In 1974, our founders, philanthropist, and art collector Peggy Cooper Cafritz (1947-2018), and dancer and choreographer Mike Malone (1943-2006), returned the favor, building Duke Ellington School of the Arts to house the creative soul of the District and to reflect the rich cultural diversity of the United States. Duke Ellington’s life inspires the vision that this school sets for its students: to develop themselves as artists, learners, and leaders. 

ARTIST

Duke Ellington was an extraordinary musical artist. A self-taught jazz pianist, he not only won acclaim

for his excellent performance skills but he also served as a pioneer of jazz music and was an extraordinarily talented composer and arranger. In his younger years, he was also a visual artist who worked as a graphic designer.  

LEARNER

Duke Ellington was an accomplished learner who was well-versed in the musical and social history of Black Americans. He spent six years crafting his epic suite, “Black, Brown and Beige,” which addressed “the history of the American Negro, starting with the Negro back in the jungles of Africa, and following through to the modern Harlemite.”  

LEADER

Duke Ellington was a savvy and proficient bandleader. He possessed interpersonal skills and practical know-how to maintain a jazz band. The difficulty of such a task should not be underestimated. He negotiated personal, financial, and political obstacles of the industry, in a social climate where Black Americans faced distinct disadvantages. 

DUKE ELLINGTON SCHOOL OF THE ARTS TIMELINE 

1968

Our founders established the Workshops for Careers in the Arts (WCA), a summer training program for high school students funded by George Washington University.

DESA was established at the Western High School location after WCA outgrew its space at George Washington University. The school was named after the inspirational and one-of-a-kind, Duke Ellington. 

1974

1968

Peggy Cooper Cafritz met choreographer Mike Malone in 1968 at a black arts festival she helped organize while pursuing her law degree at George Washington University.

1978

The Ellington Fund was created to raise funding for the school's world-class arts programming.

Interior of large, empty theater

1981

DESA became a founding member of Arts Schools Network (ASN). 

Local School Advisory Team, consisting of parents, teachers, and community members, was established to serve in an advisory capacity to the Principal. 

1992

Shepherding Program implemented to provide a supportive and consistent framework for learning through mentoring, tutoring, counseling, and retreats. 

1989

Museum Studies Department in 1992 by Marta Reid Stewart

1992

1999

Duke Ellington School of the Arts Project (DESAP) was established to manage and operate Ellington; partners include The Ellington Fund, The Kennedy Center, George Washington University and DC Public Schools. 

The original 1898 school building was completely renovated with a stunning atrium and a new 880-seat theatre.

2017

DESA was accredited by Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools for the first time. Mike Malone passes away after serving DESA students for nearly 40 years.

2006

Sandi M. Logan, our current principal and head of school, began her tenure.

2017

Exterior of small, white building
Young dancer rehearses in front of mirror
Vintage photo of a small group of students sitting in auditorium

Peggy Cooper Cafritz passes away after serving DESA and the DC arts community for over 50 years.

2018

Ellington pivoted to virtual learning and artistic performances and exhibits after the pandemic was declared. Despite the pandemic, graduating seniors amass a record $11 million dollars in college scholarships.

'20-'21

The Gender & Sexuality Alliance was established to provide support for Ellington's LGBTQ+ community.

2019

DESA will celebrate its 50th year anniversary and host the 2024 ASN Conference.

2024

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