The Apollo Theater: 80 Years of History


FEBRUARY 25, 2014 ·
CULTURE · TAGGED:James Brown at ApolloAfter 80 years, Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater is still making history for their innovative work and performers who’ve graced the stage and rubbed the iconic Tree of Hope.

It’s hard to believe that just over 80 years ago, the building that housed the iconic stomping ground for black performers was a segregated establishment that had absolutely nothing to do with black music. In 1914, it was called Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater. It wasn’t for another eleven years, in 1934, that the theater would get a new owner and be renamed the 125th Street Apollo Theatre. The new owners, Sidney Cohen and Morris Sussman, left burlesque behind in favor of variety revues aimed at Harlem’s growing black community.

Apollo 90s PhotoThroughout the years, countless moments in music history took place at the Apollo Theater, including the debut of a 15 year-old Ella Fitzgerald, who would be one of Amateur Night’s first winners. Since then, other celebrities have graced the stage and gone on to make history in their own right. People such as Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown, Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, D’Angelo, and Lauryn Hill helped make the Apollo the historical mecca of black music it is today.

In the 1970s, by the time Soul Train debuted on TV, the Apollo had experienced an incredible amount of success and historical milestones, though the theater closed in 1976 and then reopened only briefly in 1978. In 1985, the Apollo opened for good and was given landmark status as Harlem’s oldest functioning theater. During this time, the theater was launched and rebranded as a TV show.

Aretha Franklin at Apollo TheaterThe theater can now house over 1,500 people, and their Spring Gala is one of New York society’s biggest events.  In conjunction with the theater’s anniversary and Black History Month, they had a slew of events that included performances from some of the bigger Amateur Night contestants and a gospel concert headlined by Pastor Shirley Caesar.

—James R. Sanders

James R. Sanders is a NY based fashion writer and sometimes red carpet fashion stylist. His work regularly appears in Vogue.it, Ebony.com, The Huffington Post and right here on SoulTrain.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @JamesRSanders. Like his Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/styledbyjames 

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