The Apollo Theater at 253 West 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (formerly 7th Avenue) and Frederick Douglass Boulevard (formerly 8th Avenue) in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City is a music hall which is a noted venue for African-American performers. It’s the home of Showtime at the Apollo….which is a nationally syndicated television variety show which showcased new talent, from 1987 to 2008….while encompassing 1,093 episodes….as this video herewith is one of the original variety show from 1987.
The theater opened in 1914 as Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater with a capacity of 1506….and was designed by George Keister in the neo-Classical style…..and It became the Apollo in 1934….when it was opened to black patrons….as previously it had been a whites-only venue. In 1983, both the interior and exterior of the building were designated as New York City Landmarks….and the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is estimated that 1.3 million people visit the Apollo every year in 2018.
A typical show presented at the Apollo was akin to a vaudeville show originally….which included a chorus line of beautiful girls…..but as the years progressed, such variety shows were presented less often. During the swing era, along with bands such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Webb, Count Basie and Andy Kirk….the Apollo also presented dance acts such as Bill Robinson, the Nicholas Brothers, Carmen De Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder, the Berry Brothers, and Buck and Bubbles…..plus, comic acts also appeared on the Apollo stage, including those who performed in blackface, such as Butterbeans and Susie….which was much to the horror of the NAACP….and the elite of Harlem. 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 Bill Cosby, Godfrey Cambridge, LaWanda Page, Richard Pryor, Rudy Ray Moore, and Redd Foxx…..while Gospel acts like the Staple Singers, Mahalia Jackson, The Clark Sisters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Clara Ward and Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers all played The Apollo…..while performers of soul music on the Apollo stage included Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin….and jazz was represented as well with acts such as Art Blakey and Horace Silver.
Although the theater concentrated on showcasing African American acts….it also presented white acts such as swing bandleaders Harry James, Woody Herman and Charlie Barnet during the swing era….and later such jazz greats Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz and Buddy Rich….who was a particular favorite of the Apollo crowd. During the 1950’s, several white rock and roll performers whose musical backgrounds were more country music oriented such as Buddy Holly and Duane Eddy played the Apollo….who scored with their audiences by playing blues-styled material. The theater’s audience was often mixed….for in the 1940’s it was estimated that during the week about 40% of the audience was white….which would go up to 75% for weekend shows….as Jazz singer Anita O’Day headlined for the week of September 21, 1950….and was billed as “the Jezebel of Jazz”.
Anyway you cut the pie….this video is definitely a piece of music and variety show history….from the very origin of Showtime at the Apollo….and we at ImaSportsphile are just “tickled pink” to have it in our treasure chest of vintage memories.