By Julia Mayes and Sonia Narang
The Apollo Theater in Harlem celebrated its 75th anniversary Monday. Originally opened in 1914, African-Americans weren’t allowed into the theater until 1934. That year, Ella Fitzgerald and Benny Carter began performing at Amateur Night hour at the Apollo.
Since then, the Apollo Theater has jumpstarted the careers of African-American musical icons from Billie Holiday to Stevie Wonder.
“It really was a place that launched the careers of many, many legends in the industry,” said Janelle Procope, president of the Apollo Theater Foundation. “It introduced people to different art forms and really changed the cultural landscape and it continues to do so. And we’re paying homage to the past but we’re also looking at the future.”
Countless artists have graced the famous stage, but now, newcomers and long-time Apollo favorites are taking a moment to look back on the Harlem landmark’s remarkable past and honor some of its best.
“It’s just overwhelming,” said Quincy Jones about receiving an award at the Apollo. “I also realize that our success is not about us, it’s because of God and the people that helped us and mentored us along the way.” He said others like Benny Carter, Ray Charles, and Clark Terry influenced him.
America’s favorite dad, Bill Cosby who was there with his wife Camille received the Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis Humanitarian Award.
America’s favorite mom also joined in the celebration. “This is an American cultural institution and 75 years, it’s awesome,” said Phylicia Rashad.
Though much has changed over the Apollo’s 75 years, the theater is putting financial troubles behind it with a renewed commitment to partnerships and sustained success.
The Apollo is going to continue to be an important part of New York City,” said Mayor Mike Bloomberg. “It’s one of the cultural jewels in our crown. All of the tradition and all of the history really just give us the opportunity to do new things going forward.”
“It birthed many artists but it never left the neighborhood,” said Rev. Al Sharpton. “I’m glad the city and others have done what is necessary to keep it here because it’s a neighborhood theater that roared and the whole world heard its roar.”
The history and talent of a community coming together to make sure it will always be showtime at the Apollo.