Inside Scoop: Apollo Theater
Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater opened its doors in 1934. Over the years it has earned quite a reputation for its world-class live performances and educational programs that honor and advance the contributions of African-American artists.
The notable theater served as a launching place for some of the most significant entertainers of the last several decades. The first major star to light up the Apollo stage was jazz singer and Broadway star Adelaide Hall, who debuted in Clarence Robinson's production “Chocolate Soldiers.”
During the swing era, along with bands such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Webb, Count Basie and Andy Kirk, the Apollo presented some really impressive dance acts such as Bill Robinson, the Nicholas Brothers, Carmen De Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder. Comic acts also entertained audiences and so did old-time vaudeville faves, Gospel acts and performers of soul music such as Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. Of course jazz was also represented by the likes of Art Blakey and Horace Silver.
Historical highlights at the Apollo Theater include a Count Basie performance with Billie Holiday, George Clinton and Funkadelic’s performance and a debut by Prince for a special concert that aired on VH1. Tony Bennett also performed there in 1997 when he honored Billie Holiday. In 2007, Barack Obama, who was then a presidential candidate, took to the stage to share jokes with funny man Chris Rock.
In 1983 both the interior and exterior of the Apollo’s building were designated New York City Landmarks and the building was added to the National Register of Historical Places. It is estimated that 1.3 million people visit the Apollo every year.
From 1987 to 2008, the Apollo was home to "Showtime at the Apollo"—a nationally syndicated television variety show that showcased new talent. Today it has a complete calendar of events that include jazz, other musical acts and comedy. It also hosts The Original Apollo Amateur Night, which is held every Wednesday night. Aspiring musicians, singers, rappers, dancers, comedians, and spoken word artists take a crack at entertaining audiences with a chance to become an Apollo legend.