Black History Month

Black History Month Black History Month Special: 20 Stars Born From The Apollo Theater's 'Amateur Night'

Black History Month Special: 20 Stars Born From The Apollo Theater's 'Amateur Night'

By Karu F. Daniels
Posted Feb 16th 2011 6:06PM
Long before Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Ryan Seacrest, and Randy Jackson and anyone with a cell phone got a chance to choose who would be the next 'American Idol,' there was the famed Apollo Theater's weekly 'Amateur Night' showcase, the premiere point of entry for the young, gifted and black.

The theater, itself, opened in 1934. And that same year, at Amateur Night, 17-year-old Ella Fitzgerald brought down the house in a performance that launched her career, as well as the Apollo, into unwavering stardom.

During its seventy-six years, Wednesday nights at the Apollo (the official Amateur Night) became the breeding ground for countless legendary performers, including Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Celia Cruz, Gladys Knight, Tito Puente, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson among many others.

Last night, Robinson, a Motown Records legend, returned to the famed Harlem venue and shared what it was like when he and his Detroit-reared labelmates first played the Apollo in the 1960s. "I did not see one person in the audience, but I knew everything that was on that back wall right there," he said to the crowd of his sold-out show. "I was so afraid to look out in the audience because we heard about the Apollo Theater and how the guy came out on stage and hooked you. And we didn't know if it was going to happen to us."


Robinson was referring to the days of yore when Howard "Sandman" Sims, the famed Vaudeville tap dancer, who dressed like a clown (sometimes complete with bozo shoes) used canes, hooks, brooms -or whatever he could get his hand on- to usher musically challenged contestants off the stage after they were booed by the audience.

While today's televised talent competitions have a more diplomatic approach to doing away with aspiring singers who cannot hold a note, the Apollo's comical brush-off became legendary, leaving its own imprint on black music history.

"[Our] audience has proven to be 'brutally honest' about their assessment of talent and if you were to get that approval from the audience you can take your act or talent anywhere and do well," explained Billy Mitchell, the theater's resident historian. He currently gives tours of the venue (which still hosts the weekly showcase) offering patrons a closer look at the famed theater.

"Amateur Night continues to be the barometer that judges raw talent because it's based on the decision of the people. You know how they say if you make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. The same is true for that Apollo stage. If you can wow this audience, you can definitely conquer the music industry and the Apollo has bred music legends and icons.

"As our slogan says," continued Mitchell, "this is 'Where Stars Are Born & Legends Are Made.'"

Recalls Wylcef Jean: "I came here as an immigrant, and was well aware of the Apollo's legacy-so I knew how important it would be to get a gig there and to do well," Grammy Award winning hip hop musician once shared. "I first played the Apollo at 15 with my band, The Fugees, and after we didn't get booed, they didn't throw eggs, we felt we had a chance, and that we could get anywhere.

"Needless to say, the Apollo has been tremendously important in my career, and in the careers of so many others." From the Apollo stage, the trio went on to become one of the best-selling groups in music history.

Indeed. For Black History Month, BlackVoices takes a look at the top 20 amateurs whose talent made the Apollo's motto 'Where Stars Are Born & Legends Are Made,' a reality.





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chandrasekhara5

Nice galary

February 21 2011 at 6:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
quita

hey

February 21 2011 at 1:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RoRo

all people of color should know their roots,especialy the children. when we look at our past,honestly, learn our history,and realize what srong survivers we are and see how far we have come by the almighty GOD,s hands,in spite of inhuman,cruel, humilating treatment,we did not die in our spirit,some of our forfathers were beaten,lynched, tarred,sold away from family,raped,etc. we are not e x t i n c t. our ancestors should always be remembered.it is because many of them,endured unspeakable torture,so that we could evolve into what we are now,not perfect but still here. we should never forget,nor try to hide our past. every chance i get ,i teach a child our history. i am not embrassed or ashamed.since i had a chance to sit at my elders feet to hear first hand what it was like ,i take great proud in keeping the past alive
we are somebody special, we people of color.

February 20 2011 at 10:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mmuy5

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February 20 2011 at 9:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mmuy5

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February 20 2011 at 9:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mmuy5

I am an Air Force and single at present .I need a woman who can love me back ..I also uploaded my hot photos on Uniformedmingle .C oM under the name of hoho212..It's the largest and best club for seeking Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Police Force, and the admirers of those who wear the uniform.I just hope you don't mind me being a soldier ...Please Check it out!I'm serious.

February 20 2011 at 9:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
CARTER

hi..

February 20 2011 at 9:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
WELCOME BETTY

The story that was passed down in our family was, my mother and her cousin(a singer) traveled to the Apollo Theater from Pennsylvania to be on that same show in 1934 with Ella Fitzgerald and of course Ella won that night and the rest is musical history..

February 20 2011 at 6:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pristalina

The Apollo is in New York on 125th Street.

February 20 2011 at 6:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
j.e. mackey sr.

ssdg

February 20 2011 at 1:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply