The Apollo Theater, c. 2009
|Location:||Harlem, New York|
|Architectural style:||Classical Revival|
|Added to NRHP:||November 17, 1983|
|Designated NYCL:||June 28, 1983|
The Apollo Theater in New York City is a music hall in the United States, and the most famous club associated almost exclusively with African-American performers. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was the home of Showtime at the Apollo, a nationally syndicated television variety show consisting of new talent.
The theater is located at 253 W. 125th Street in the New York City borough of Manhattan, specifically in Harlem, one of the United States' most historically significant traditionally African-American neighborhoods.
Creation and rise 
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An Apollo Hall was founded in the mid-19th century by former Civil War General Edward Ferrero as a dance hall and ballroom. Upon the expiration of his lease in 1872, the building was converted to a theater, which closed shortly before the turn of the 20th century.
In 1913 or 1914, a new building, designed by the architect George Keister, who also patterned the First Baptist Church in the City of New York, opened at 253 West 125th Street called 'Hurtig and Seamon's New (Burlesque) Theater, which practised a strict 'Whites Only' policy'. The theatre was operated by noted burlesque producers Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon, who obtained a 30-year lease. It remained in operation until 1928, when Bill Minsky took over. The song "I May Be Wrong (But I Think You're Wonderful)" by Harry Sullivan and Harry Ruskin, written in 1929, became the theme song of the theater.. The Harlem Renaissance was occurring at the time and there was a Great Migration of blacks to Harlem from the southern U.S. states.
During the early 1930s the theatre fell into disrepair and closed once more. In 1933, it was purchased by Frank Schulman (owner of Harlem's Lafayette and Lincoln theatre's). After lavish renovations the theatre re-opened as the Apollo on 26 January 1934. Schulman's intention was to exclusively showcase black entertainment and he hired Clarence Robinson as in-house producer. He also introduced "Audition Night" (that was later called 'Amateur Night'), held every Monday evening. On 14 February 1934, the first major star to appear at the Apollo was jazz singer and Broadway star Adelaide Hall in Clarence Robinson's production entitled 'Chocolate Soldiers' featuring Sam Wooding's Orchestra. The show ran for a limited engagement and was highly praised by the press and helped establish the Apollo as Harlem's premier theatre.
A benefit show appeared at the theatre entitled "Jazz a la Carte", featuring Ralph Cooper, Benny Carter and his orchestra, and "16 Gorgeous Hot Steppers", with all proceeds donated to the Harlem Children's Fresh Air Fund. Schulman's motivation for featuring negro talent and entertainment was not only because the neighborhood had become negro over a long period of gradual migration, but because colored entertainers were cheaper to hire, and Schulman could offer quality shows for reasonable rates. There are precisely 1506 seats in the Apollo Theater. For many years, the Apollo was the only theater in New York City to hire black people.
Amateur Nights 
Ella Fitzgerald made her singing debut at 17 at the Apollo, on November 21, 1934. Fitzgerald's performances pulled in a weekly audience at the Apollo and she won the opportunity to compete in one of the earliest of its "Amateur Nights". She had originally intended to go on stage and dance, but intimidated by the Edwards Sisters, a local dance duo, she opted to sing instead, in the style of Connee Boswell. She sang Hoagy Carmichael's "Judy" and "The Object of My Affection", a song recorded by the Boswell Sisters, and won the first prize of US$25.00.
The Apollo grew to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance of the pre-World War II years. In 1934, it introduced its regular Amateur Night shows hosted by Ralph Cooper. Billing itself as a place "where stars are born and legends are made," the Apollo became famous for launching the careers of artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, Mariah Carey, The Isley Brothers, Lauryn Hill, Sarah Vaughan, Jazmine Sullivan, Ne-Yo, and Machine Gun Kelly. The Apollo also featured the performances of old-time vaudeville favorites like Tim Moore, Stepin Fetchit, Moms Mabley, Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham, Clinton "Dusty" Fletcher, John "Spider Bruce" Mason, and Johnny Lee, as well as younger comics like Godfrey Cambridge. Vocalist Thelma Carpenter won the amateur night in 1938, returning several times later as a headliner and also for the 1993 NBC-TV special "Apollo Theater Hall of Fame," an all-star tribute hosted by Bill Cosby. Jimi Hendrix won the first place prize in an amateur musician contest at the Apollo in 1964. Amateur Night marked its first tie on October 27, 2010, with guitarist Nathan Foley, 16, of Rockville, Maryland, and cellist and singer Ayanna Witter-Johnson, 25, a London, England, student at the Manhattan School of Music, sharing the $10,000 prize.
One unique feature of the Apollo during Amateur Nights was "the executioner," a man with a broom who would sweep performers off the stage if the highly vocal and opinionated audiences began to call for their removal.
In 1962, James Brown, who had first played the Apollo three years earlier with his group The Famous Flames, recorded his show at the theater. The resulting album, Live at the Apollo, was a groundbreaking success, spending 66 weeks on the Billboard pop albums chart and peaking at #2. Brown went on to record three more albums and a television special, James Brown: Man to Man, at the theater, and helped popularize it as a venue for live recordings. Other performers who recorded albums at the Apollo include Clyde McPhatter, Marva Whitney, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Robert Palmer, and B.B. King.
Early white performers 
Jazz singer Anita O'Day headlined for the week of Sept. 21, 1950, billed as "the Jezebel of Jazz". One rock and roll fan site, without citing its source, claims that on August 16, 1957, white performer Buddy Holly played the Apollo. Conversely, The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture claims white (Caucasian) rockabilly artist Dale Hawkins "performed at the Apollo Theater in New York City two weeks before the reputed first white artists, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, arrived on the scene." Hawkins himself claimed in 1998, without specifying a performance date, "I was the first white artist to play the Apollo Theater." Another Caucasian performer Jo-Ann Campbell claims she performed November 30, 1956, and the week of May 3, 1957. A fan site claims that Caucasian performer Jimmy Cavallo and the House Rockers performed there in December 1956, in support of the movie Rock, Rock, Rock. A poster for Alan Freed's Rock 'N Roll Halloween Party on October 29, 1955, lists and shows a picture of white female rockabilly artist Lillian Briggs  as one of the performers at Freed's Apollo Theater event, and it is possible other white artists may have performed at the Apollo before her. Photo evidence has recently been discovered that Charlie Barnet and his band performed at the Apollo sometime between late August and October 1952.
Decline and restoration 
The club fell into decline in the 1960s and 1970s, and was converted into a movie theater in 1975. On April 1 and 2 1976, media trail blazers Fred and Felicidad Dukes as well as Rafee Kamaal, produced two 90-minute television specials with Group W Productions as a way to help restore life to this great entertainment venue.From 1975 to 1982 it was owned by Guy Fisher.
The Apollo was revived in 1983, when Inner City Broadcasting, a firm owned by former Manhattan borough president Percy E. Sutton, purchased the building. It obtained federal, state, and city landmark status, and fully reopened in 1985. The Little Rascals, produced by former actor Jimmy Hawkins, performed at a fiftieth anniversary show at the Apollo that year. The musical duo Hall & Oates, along with former Temptations Eddie Kendrick and David Ruffin played the grand reopening in 1985, which was released on an album that year.
On December 15, 2005, Dmarjai Dearion launched the first phase of its refurbishment, costing an estimated $65 million. The first phase included the facade and the new light-emitting diode (LED) marquee. Attendees and speakers at the launch event included former US president Bill Clinton, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons.
As of 2009 it is run by the nonprofit Apollo Theater Foundation Inc., and draws an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually.
During an appearance at the Apollo in January 2012, President Barack Obama sang the opening line of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" after which he said to Green, "Don't worry, Rev...I cannot sing like you...I just wanted to show my appreciation."
Hall of Fame 
The Apollo Theater Legends Hall of Fame has inducted such renowned performers and music-industry figures as Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, Gladys Knight, The Pips, Michael Jackson, James Brown, Quincy Jones, and Patti LaBelle.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Apollo Theater", Britannica Online Encyclopedia, 2009; webpage: EB-Apollo-Theater.
- Jackson, Kenneth T, editor, The Encyclopedia of New York City, Yale University Press, p.40
- Apollo Theater Foundation press release: "Apollo 75th Anniversary: Milestones in Apollo Theater History", January 27, 2009
- Underneath a Harlem Moon ... the Harlem to Paris years of Adelaide Hall. pages 288-289. http://www.amazon.com/Underneath-Harlem-Moon-Paris-Adelaide/dp/B005ZOLV7C
- Underneath a Harlem Moon ... the Harlem to Paris years of Adelaide Hall. page 289. http://www.amazon.com/Underneath-Harlem-Moon-Paris-Adelaide/dp/B005ZOLV7C
- Fox, Ted (1983). Showtime at the Apollo. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. pp. 60, 61. ISBN 0-03-060533-4.
- Jim Moret (1996-06-15). "'First Lady of Song' passes peacefully, surrounded by family". CNN. Archived from the original on 2006-11-29. Retrieved 2007-01-30.
- Stern, Rachel. "Apollo Theater's Amateur Night Finale Ends in a Tie", DNAInfo.com, October 28, 2010. WebCitation archive.
- Holloway, Lynette (1992-08-07). "Show Time for Sad Time at Apollo". The New York Times.
- Anita O'Day; George Eells (1981). High times, hard times. Putnam. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-399-12505-8
- Daily Events - 1957
- "Dale Hawkins (1936-)", The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture'
- Drozdowski, Ted. "Music: Still 'Q'-ed Up" "The Boston Phoenix", Weekly Wire, October 26, 1998)
- Wright, Morgan. Jimmy Cavallo
- , Alan Freed's Rock 'N Roll Halloween Party poster
- Korn Show Their Moody Side At Apollo Theater MTV.
- jazzfoundation.org. 2009-15-10. URL: http://www.jazzfoundation.org/JFA_2007_invite.pdf. Accessed: 2009-15-10. (Archived by jazzfoundation.org at http://www.jazzfoundation.org/JFA_2007_invite.pdf)
- youtube.com. 2012-19-01. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPS9faZlITQ. Accessed: 2009-20-01.
- "Apollo Theater to induct Jackson into Hall of Fame" Associated Press via Crain's New York Business, August 25, 2009
- "Apollo Theater Celebrated 75 Years as the Soul of American Culture Raising More Than $1.3 Million at Anniversary Gala & Awards Ceremony on June 8, 2009", Apollo Theater press release, June 22, 2009
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Apollo Theater|
- Official Apollo Theater website
- Apollo Theater collected news and commentary at The New York Times
- Apollo Theater collected news and commentary at The Wall Street Journal
- The Dick Davy Story, WFMU, 2007