HARLEM - The Apollo Theater, one of the nation’s most enduring cultural landmarks, will be the subject of a spectacular exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. On view from February 8 through May 1, 2011, Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment explores the Theater’s rich history and seminal influence on popular culture. With a dazzling array of images, videos, costumes, artifacts, and text, the exhibition brings to life many of the most groundbreaking personalities and moments in the history of music, while shining a spotlight on the impact of African-American artists on American culture.
Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing is organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in collaboration with the Apollo Theater. The exhibition’s national tour, organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), is made possible by a generous grant from Time Warner Inc, with additional funding provided by J.P. Morgan.
Susan Henshaw Jones, the Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York, commented: “The Apollo is one of New York City’s greatest cultural landmarks and it is a symbol of pride not only for African Americans but for so many New Yorkers. This is much more than an exhibition about music and stardom. It’s a chapter in American history that is especially rewarding to consider and understand. When I think of a soundtrack for the second half of the twentieth century, it’s the music that was launched by the Apollo.”
“Since 1934, the Apollo has been a driving force in shaping America’s musical and cultural landscape,” says Jonelle Procope, President and CEO of the Apollo Theater. “The Theater has nurtured generations of artists, and its stage has played host to milestones from Ella Fitzgerald’s historic Amateur Night win to memorial services for Apollo legends James Brown and Michael Jackson, from Nat ‘King’ Cole’s record-breaking two sold-out weeks of performances in the 1940s to Barack Obama’s electric campaign rally in 2007. We are thrilled to be partnering with the Smithsonian and the Museum of the City of New York to bring the exhibition home and give New Yorkers an opportunity to learn about these and countless other incredible Apollo stories.”
Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing documents the story of the Apollo Theater and the extraordinary pantheon of stars whose careers were launched, furthered, and resumed on this legendary Harlem stage. Highlights of the exhibition include costumes, accessories, record album covers, photographs, videos, recordings, and other artifacts directly related to the Theater and owned or worn by the countless celebrities associated with the Apollo—many of whom are among the greatest names in American and global entertainment. The exhibition also touches on the history of Harlem—how it grew from a Dutch settlement to become a haven for European immigrants, and then a national center for black culture and black politics; text, photographs, and artifacts on view tell the story of this important New York City neighborhood.
The exhibition also places Harlem and the Apollo Theater within a larger picture of American history, particularly in regard to shifting attitudes about race, segregation and integration, and social change in the United States. A wide variety of artifacts, including letters from Adam Clayton Powell and Martin Luther King, Jr., to Frank Schiffman, the influential white owner of the Apollo from 1935 until his death in 1974, testify to the great strides he made in integrating not only Apollo audiences but also Apollo employees, by welcoming African American audiences to the theater and by hiring African Americans from the communities surrounding the theater, both uncommon practices in their day.
Objects featured in Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing are drawn from a number of private and publicly held collections, including those at the African American Museum of Philadelphia, the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, the Museum of the City of New York, the National Afro American Museum of Ohio, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Among the electrifying array of artifacts, documents, and photographs, are the following highlights:
First editions of The New Negro, by Alain Locke, and Color, by Countée Cullen, which helped to replace some of the older, stereotypical notions of African Americans, and which also helped to establish Harlem’s reputation as an artistic and cultural mecca;
Musical instruments, shoes, costumes, and accessories belonging to (among others) Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Katherine Dunham, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Pearl Bailey, Ray Charles, the Supremes, B.B. King, Celia Cruz, Patti LaBelle, LL Cool J, and Savion Glover, to name a few;
Historic record albums, graphics, photographs, and other imagery created for the music industry;
Owner Frank Schiffman’s meticulously-maintained cards that recorded his personal impressions of performers, audience reaction, money paid to performers, the amount earned by the Theater, and other details he believed pertinent.
Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing was organized by the National Museum of African American History and Culture in collaboration with the Apollo Theater Foundation. The exhibition’s national tour is made possible by a generous grant from Time Warner Inc. Additional funding is provided by J.P. Morgan. The exhibition’s national tour is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.
The Apollo Theater Exhibition is part of the Apollo Theater Archive Project, funded by deeply appreciated support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Edward and Leslye Phillips Family Foundation, the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, American Express, the Booth Ferris Foundation, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, the Neuberger Berman Foundation, and the New York Community Trust.
The Apollo's annual programming is made possible by lead support from: The Coca-Cola Company, the Edward and Leslye Phillips Family Foundation, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bloomberg, and the Neuberger Berman Foundation.
Additional support for the Apollo’s 2010-2011 activities is provided by public funds from: the National Endowment for the Arts; The City of New York: Theater Subdistrict Council, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, Council Member Inez E. Dickens, and Speaker Christine Quinn, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council; and the State of New York: the New York State Council on the Arts, Senator Bill Perkins, Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.