When making a list of things to do in Harlem(opens in a new tab), visiting the Apollo Theater(opens in a new tab) is always a must. The Apollo Theater history, in many ways, echoes the history of Harlem itself. Here are our favorite Apollo Facts:
Apollo Theater History
While today the Apollo is known for launching the careers of black recording legends ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Michael Jackson, it was once a theater where black audience members were not allowed to attend! The space(opens in a new tab), known then as the Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater, opened in 1914 as a burlesque theater and was a whites-only venue. It wasn’t until 1934 that the theater was re-opened as the Apollo, welcoming audiences of all colors!
Amateur Night at the Apollo
While famous for producing musical performances featuring bands such as Duke Ellington and Dizzie Gillespie, Amateur Night at the Apollo(opens in a new tab) was arguably the venue’s most popular offering. Amateur Night became the quintessential talent competition and has served as the model for American Idol and Star Search. Young performers with acts ranging from jazz songs to tap dance would show their talents in front of a live audience. The highly vocal and opinionated Harlem audience would wildly cheer for their favorites, but also boo if they wanted the performer removed. If an unlucky performer was boo-ed, a man with a broom, known as the “executioner,” would come and sweep them off the stage. To give you an idea of the level of talent, Ella Fitzgerald and Jimi Hendrix are both winners of Amateur Night at the Apollo.
The Apollo Today
Today, the Apollo is still a concert venue that hosts everyone from Justin Bieber to Lauren Hill. President Barack Obama spoke at the Apollo and raised $3 million for his presidential campaign(opens in a new tab). The Apollo still presents weekly Amateur Nights, and the audiences are just as lively as they were in 1934. And they also still have an “executioner(opens in a new tab).” Regular tour(opens in a new tab)s of the venue are offered. This gives you a chance to deep-dive into the Apollo’s history, as well as take a walk on the stage if you’re lucky!