October 21, 2016
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Exhibition Explores Apollo's Impact

Apollo Theater Exterior, 2008
Photo courtesy of the Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc.
Photo Credit: Shahar Azran

DETROIT, MI -- The first exhibition to explore the Apollo Theater's seminal impact on American entertainment will be on view at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan from October 1, 2010 – January 2, 2011. Presented by the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in collaboration with the Apollo Theater Foundation, "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment" examines the rich history and cultural significance of the legendary Harlem theater, tracing the story from its origins as a segregated burlesque hall to its starring role at the epicenter of African American entertainment and American popular culture.

The exhibition's national tour is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), and is made possible by a generous grant from Time Warner, Inc. Additional funding was provided by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Local sponsors include DTE Energy, Masco Corporation, Ford Motor Company, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Erb Family Foundation.


"As a beacon of possibility and excellence, the Apollo is a perfect lens through which the museum can examine many of the country's most important political, social and cultural developments," said Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of NMAAHC. "The story of the Apollo yields incredible insight into the flux of African American life in the 20th century - from the great migration to the urban north, through two world wars and into the civil rights movement."

"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 Apollo has nurtured generations of artists and has been a source of entertainment and inspiration to millions of people throughout its 75 years. We are delighted to be partnering with the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture to present ‘Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing,' which will illuminate the role the Apollo has played in the creative life of our nation."

Exhibition co-curators Tuliza Fleming of the museum and Guthrie Ramsey Jr., the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania, have assembled historic and contemporary costumes, playbills, music scores, graphic images and recorded music to document the Apollo's history, including memorable performances by emerging artists and living legends who graced its stage. Moving chronologically through the theater's development, exhibition panels provide context to the featured objects and are enhanced by an introductory film and video alcoves, which offer a multimedia experience for visitors. Among the one-of-a-kind and rarely displayed artifacts in the exhibition are:

* James Brown's cape and jumpsuit - Brown was an Apollo regular even after he reached superstar status.
* Michael Jackson's fedora - Jackson won Amateur Night in 1967 with the Jackson 5.
* A dress worn by one of The Supremes- The original trio first played the Apollo in 1962 as part of the dazzling Motown Revue.
* Cab Calloway's baton - Calloway was one of the most popular Swing Era bandleaders.
* Sammy Davis's childhood tap shoes - Davis first appeared on the Apollo stage in 1947.
* Peg Leg Bates' peg leg - Despite losing his left leg in an accident at age 12, Bates pursued his dream of tap dancing. By the mid-1930s, he was an Apollo regular.
* Duke Ellington's score for Black and Tan Fantasy, (1927) - The legendary jazz composer and bandleader wrote some of the best-known compositions in American music.
* Ella Fitzgerald's dress - Fitzgerald made her Amateur Night debut at the age of 17.
* Miles Davis' flugelhorn - Davis frequently headlined at the Apollo.
* LL Cool J's jacket and hat - LL Cool J remains one of today's best-known rappers.
* Celia Cruz's dress - Known as the Queen of Salsa, Cruz was a symbol of Afro Cuban music throughout the African Diaspora.

Featured objects 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. Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2009-2010, the Apollo Theater, a non-profit institution, is one of Harlem's, New York City's and America's most enduring cultural treasures. The Apollo was one of the first theaters in New York - and the country - to fully integrate, welcoming traditionally African American, Hispanic and local immigrant populations in the audience, as well as headlining uniquely talented entertainers who found it difficult to gain entrance to other venues of similar size and resources.

Since introducing the first Amateur Night contests in 1934, the Apollo Theater has played a major role in cultivating artists and in the emergence of innovative musical genres, including jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues, soul and hip-hop. Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Michael Jackson, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, D'Angelo, Lauryn Hill and countless others began their careers on the Apollo's stage. Based on its cultural significance and architecture, the Apollo Theater received state and city landmark designation in 1983 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

An exhibition companion book, with a foreword by Smokey Robinson, Motown singer, songwriter and producer, and an introduction by Bunch, features historic photographs and essays by 23 historians, musicologists and critics, including Princeton University scholar Kandia Crazy Horse, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Levering Lewis, author of W.E.B. DuBois: A Biography and Robert O'Meally, founder of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University. The book is available for purchase in the Charles H. Wright Museum's gift shop.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established by an act of Congress in 2003, and will be erected on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Currently, during the pre-building phase, the museum is presenting exhibitions, producing publications, hosting public events and offering an array of interactive programs and educational resources at the museum on the Web at www.nmaahc.si.edu.

The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for nearly 60 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play.ight Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. 


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