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Mumble Sauce is a summer 2019 column about how DMV Black communities uplift healing and creativity in the face of gentrification, displacement, policing, and incarceration. This is installment two of 10.
There’s a secret portal hiding in a house in LeDroit Park.
On the outside, it looks like a large colonial home, similar to the ones around it. If you didn’t know exactly what you were looking for, you wouldn’t know there was anything going on inside.
When I went to a party at this house a few weeks ago, it was dark and I approached with hesitation. I was joined by another Black woman who was similarly lost, both of us nervous and acutely aware of the dangers of being a Black person approaching the wrong home. We chuckled and felt more sure of ourselves once we reached the front porch. The rattle of the wood beneath our feet let us know we were in the right place—music was playing inside, and a lot of it.
This is House of Secrets: a 100-year-old eclectic abode where Black artists have convened since the 1960s. A lot of soul has touched the walls. Icons like Miles Davis, Chaka Khan, Duke Ellington, and Prince have all thrown parties there. Now, in 2019, those parties are being thrown by D.C. born-and-raised photographer Beverly Price.
The list of stories Beverly Price has to tell is even longer than the locs that cascade like ropes of licorice down her back. You can tell she’s a storyteller from her photography—black-and-white stills of Black people in Barry Farm that she hangs along the house’s walls during her parties. She uses these functions to connect local Black artists to one another while raising money for the house’s octogenarian owner to help him keep his home.
Price was born and raised in D.C.’s Capitol Hill, so uplifting local Black artists is particularly important to her. “Black artists shouldn’t have to die to be valued. If we don’t support these artists while they’re alive, then they’re not benefiting from it,” Price says. “We’re creating a hub for Black creatives to find their place and feel welcome.”
To say that Black artists are welcomed at Price’s parties is an understatement. Each event has a similar set up. Music for dancing and lounging plays on the house’s different floors. Party attendees can chill and eat outside. And the hallmark is what’s going on in the attic: a jam session where anyone at the party can play different instruments, sing, chant, and rap.
The attic at House of Secrets feels like stepping into a different universe. The ceiling is painted with gradients of blue hues, bright stars, and emotive suns and moons. Couches line the room’s periphery, punctuated by end tables topped with large red lamps, houseplants, and antique figurines. Party attendees sit on the crowded couches and along on the floor, careful not to disturb any of the room’s relics, foreheads shiny and sticky with perspiration. There’s no shortage of people fidgeting in their seats to hop on the mic to freestyle or to get their turn on the drums. “Everyone brings something to the space,” Price says.
To Price, giving local Black artists a chance is a form of paying it forward. She found a love for art after a close friend gave her a camera in 2016 as a gift. Price had gotten out of prison 10 years earlier, and she felt like she was getting her bearings for the first time since she went away. She served a five-year sentence under D.C.’s Youth Rehabilitation Act, a law that provides incarcerated youth a chance to move forward in life without a criminal record.
“I was in the federal penitentiary at 18. I had to grow up really fast,” she says. “I had to sit in a cell—I was in lockdown for a year—and I had nothing but time to find myself.”
Shortly before Price got her camera, she had a dream in which four young Black boys with deep blue eyes rose out of the ground at Barry Farm and placed a camera in her hands. This dream confirmed for her that photography is part of her life’s purpose. She started doing research online to learn some tricks before taking classes at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, a community arts center in the neighborhood where she grew up. Since then, Price’s photography has been featured in the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
The vast majority of subjects of Price’s pictures are children at Barry Farm. You can see them riding bikes, throwing up peace signs, making silly faces, and protesting. Price’s life experiences helped her realize the importance of uplifting the perspectives of youth. She has a strong and loving relationship with her family, but she remembers going into foster care briefly when she was around 5 years old after her parents experienced mental health crises. That experience, paired with her experience of going to prison when she was a teenager, armed her with a lot of compassion for kids.
“While I was in prison, I knew I had to prepare myself. I knew the odds were against me. The system in America is very harsh for young people,” says Beverly. “For someone so young to make a mistake, and to have it follow you around forever … it made me question the compassion of this country.”
“My photos tell a story of concern for the youth. I’m a mother to the community.”
There’s power in Black people’s stories, and Beverly wants to give people the chance to share them. That’s why she’s started doing photography workshops with local kids. It’s why she’s cultivated relationships with so many Black artists across the city, providing them with platforms to dive into their crafts with other musicians. It’s also why she’s developed a bond with the owner of House of Secrets: Beverly’s been documenting his story while helping him take care of his home.
“House of Secrets is a place of ritual, a place of Black D.C. culture. It’s a Black museum and is vital to the ecosystem of D.C.,” Beverly says. “The owner is almost 90 years old and he’s still partying with us. We’re keeping the vibe alive.”
As far as I can tell, this vibe has remarkable reverberation power. Each of Beverly’s parties has been a bit bigger than the last; each attracting different Black artists to flex what they’ve got. Maybe one day, the world will grow more familiar with the stories behind the black-and-white photographs in this secret house.
To learn more about Beverly Price’s artwork, check out her website, beverlypricephoto.com, and follow her on Instagram, @filmgoddess_.