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Apollo Theater--World Famous Black Entertainment Venue in Harlem

Updated on July 27, 2011

The Apollo theater, located at 125th St. in Harlem, NY, began as a burlesque house in 1914 and later became the world famous stage that has featured stars like Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, James Brown, Louis Armstrong, and the Temptations, Michael Jackson, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Lauren Hill, Vanessa Williams, and many more African American performers. In fact, the Apollo even featured a few white artists like Elvis Pressley at his request. It was said that playing at the Apollo was the closest a white talent could come to the black experience in Harlem. And what an experience that was!


Sarah Vaughn a Winner of Amateur Night 1942

You see the Apollo ran in its heyday after the Harlem Renaissance in Harlem. That period was from 1919 to 1930 and spawned some of the most famous African Americans in music, art, literature, politics, and ideas. During this time thousands of Southern blacks, as well as some immigrants from the West Indies and other places, moved to Harlem to seek out better living conditions and an opportunity for creative expression. In this mixture, there can be found the likes of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and Ethel Waters, all of whom played the Apollo theater. So, on the heels of the Harlem Renaissance, in 1934, the theater opened primarily for black entertainment. Aside from the talent, as great as it was, there were other reasons why the Apollo gained huge success. One reason that black talent could be had at a cheaper price than white talent. Another reason was the civil rights movement had changed the conscious of many in the USA in the 1960s. Plus, rock and roll has been credited with this change in attitude towards African Americans. Yet, another reason was the active pursuit of black talent to promote. Some say this was done in an effort to compete with Broadway for ticket sales. In others' view, it was to help diminish prejudice and advance the black race, as a people. In any case, it worked!

In Harlem back then, the Apollo was the place to be for up and coming acts and for those blacks who had made it to come home again. For generations, it presented the latest in the different styles of music, like swing, bebop, jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, funk, and soul. It also featured dance acts like Cholly Atkins and Honi Coles, and comedians like Jackie "Moms" Mabley and Redd Foxx appeared there. Even, Ed Sullivan was said to have attended shows frequently to scout out talent for his television show. Also, Janis Joplin and Mick Jagger were reportedly regulars at the Apollo. Really, the list of those that attended shows and/or performed at the Apollo reads like "Whose Who in Modern Entertainment?"

Under the ownership of Frank Schiffman and later his son Bobby Schiffman, the theater had achieved greatness. It is said that the original owner, Sidney Cohen, took the name from a theater he had owned that happened to be above the Schiffman and Brecher's Harlem Opera House. With a name coined in Greek mythology, as the god of music, poetry, and arts, the Apollo remained standing after a bitter war between theaters in Harlem had long ended.


Maxwell Performs at the Apollo

Today, after 75 years of showtimes, the Apollo still has its famed Amateur Night on Wednesdays where new talent gets a chance to go out and perform before perhaps the most demanding of all audiences. A word of caution here: Be good, be very good, or be gone! That is the expectation at the Apollo. If you are good, you will be accepted and perhaps have one foot on the path to stardom. If you are not good, you may as well have stepped into oblivion. Either way, you will have experienced one of the most renowned opportunities in show business, an appearance at the Apollo! If you are in the audience, then you might just witness one of many stars still being born there.


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      Cassidella 6 years ago

      You're welcome. Happy to be writing. Hope to keep the hubs coming! Oprah? That's funny:)

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      honeybeegone 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing. Never knew all that about the appollo. Keep up the good work. We've missed you. Oprah is about to leave us so.....