The Apollo has perhaps had the greatest influence on pop culture in our country as compared to other entertainment venues. “For blacks it was the most important cultural institution—not just the greatest black theatre, but a special place to come of age emotionally, professionally, socially, and politically,” said Ted Fox on Showtime at the Apollo.
The Apollo was designed and built in 1914 by Benjamin Hurtig and Harry Seamon as a burlesque theater. After burlesque shows were shut down by mayor Fiorello La Guardia, the theater closed and then reopened in 1934 as the Street Apollo Theater. During this time, the African American community in Harlem was growing and the Harlem Renaissance was just around the corner.
In 1933, Ralph Cooper started the Harlem Amateur Hour, which would later become Wednesday Amateur Night at the Apollo. The shows were broadcast live to 21 different radio stations, and it quickly became the hottest place for new talent. The legendary Ella Fitzgerald would be one of the first winners at the age of fifteen. More than three quarters of a century later, Amateur Night is still going strong. It has discovered talent like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, and Lauryn Hill.
Legendary performers have graced the stage of the Apollo since its very beginning, including Benny Carter, Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday, the Count Basie Orchestra, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Temptations, Bill Cosby, and Bob Marley.
One of the biggest shows the Apollo hosts these days is the NYCHA Talent Showcase, which features performers from across the five boroughs. After auditioning and being selected, aspiring performers take part in a collaborative process involving industry professionals, workshops, and more. Auditions for this year’s show are currently being conducted.