NEW YORK (Reuters) - From Michael Jackson to James Brown, Harlem’s The Apollo Theater is famed for helping launch some of the most successful figures in U.S. black entertainment and marking their influence in popular culture.
A new exhibit, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” displays images, videos and artifacts including instruments, shoes and costumes from music greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Sammy Davis Jr. who performed at the theater over the past 75 years.
From swing to Motown to hip hop, it details the 1500-seat music hall’s history of propelling styles of music and artists that have graced its stage from Nat King Cole in the 1940s to its famed Apollo Amateur Night, which helped the careers of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix and The Jackson 5.
“The first time I appeared at the Apollo was during Amateur Night -- my gospel group during a gospel caravan show. And we won. And the next time was at the very beginning of my career in 1962,” Dionne Warwick told Reuters Television.
“The Apollo Theater is the creme de la creme. And as is said, and is so true, if you can make it at the Apollo, you can make it anywhere,” Warwick added.
The exhibit, held from Feb 8 to May 1 at the Museum of the City of New York, also explores Harlem’s history as a hub of U.S. black culture and the theater’s role in hosting memorial services for James Brown and a public tribute to Michael Jackson.
Jackson first performed at Amateur Night at age 9 with his brothers. Their group, the Jackson 5, won the competition in 1969, when the pop singer was 11 years old, performing Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Lovin’ You.”
“When I think of a soundtrack for the second half of the twentieth century, it’s the music that was launched by the Apollo,” Susan Henshaw Jones, director of the Museum of the City of New York, said in a statement.
Letters from Martin Luther King and Frank Schiffman, the owner of the Apollo from 1935 until his death in 1974, are also included in the exhibit.
Reporting by Christine Kearney, editing by Jill Serjeant