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Apollo Theater

Apollo Theater (133)

It all started in 1914, when this hall was opened in the heart of Harlem. Originally, its name was Hurting & Seamon's New Burlesque Theatre and was reserved exclusively for white people. In fact, if they have not removed it already, on the outside you can still see a "Whites Only" sign.

Already in 1934, this music hall was taken over by Leo Brecher and Frank Schiffman, who renamed it as the Apollo Theatre on 125th Street, whereas its formats stopped being burlesque to accommodate other varieties. That same year, the hall began to allow performances and entrance to an African-American audience. Indeed, it was the first jazz hall in the US to let Black people in.

Moreover, Ralph Cooper began broadcasting his radio programme live from here in 1934. It was the Amateur Nite Hour at the Apollo, a programme dedicated to discovering new talent, which soon became legendary. The truth is that the owners' interest in promoting African-American artists arose because the district was inhabited by more and more Black immigrants, but mainly because it was much cheaper to hire them, while assuring their talent.

To give you an idea, one of the first winners of this amateur contest was a very young Ella Fitzgerald at the age of 15 in November 1934. A few months later, Bessie Smith and, after her, a just 20-year-old singer called Billie Holiday, who stole the hearts of the audience, performed here. Quite a myth that quickly led to the famous sentence that defines the Apollo Theatre: "Where the stars are born and legends are made."

Since then, the list of artists who have performed during its famous amateur nights is simply extraordinary. From Aretha Franklin to Lauryn Hill, from James Brown to Stevie Wonder, from Duke Ellington to Count Basie and from Diana Ross to the Jackson Five. Somehow or other, all of them were discovered here.

As a curiosity, we can tell you that the first white person to act during these amateur nights was Buddy Holly in 1957 at the age of 21 and that Jimi Hendrix himself won the first prize in 1964 at the age of only 22.

In the late 1960s, the hall was already losing audience, whereas in the 1970s it eventually became a cinema. But, fortunately, in 1983, it changed hands and underwent a major renovation to reopen in 1985 and recover its wonderful amateur nights, among other things. Thus, of course, our best recommendation is that you review the billboard and get yourself a ticket to enjoy a magical night in this world temple of jazz: the Apollo Theatre. When you leave, do not forget to take one of the classic photographs of New York with Apollo's red neon letters glowing in Harlem.

In 2010, after two years of deliberations, the Apollo Theater has launched a very interesting initiative: the Apollo's Walk of Fame, similar to what exists in Hollywood, but with the artists who have performed in this hall. Along the pavement of 125th Street, you can find rectangular plaques of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, and other stars, like Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Little Richard or Ella Fitzgerald. They are actual legends.

Guided tours of about an hour, during which you can visit, among other rooms, The Wall of Fame in the lobby, which features a huge collage with the performers who have gone on stage in this establishment. It also boasts a souvenir shop.

Thus, if you happen to be there during visiting hours, do not hesitate, you will be located where great music legends have been created and will continue to be created. 

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