Jose 1 Janelle Jose Professor Pappas AAS 254 16 April 2008 “Our Theater: The Hey Dey of the Apollo Theatre” Apollo was the Greek God of music, Poetry and the arts. His temple was at Delphi and was known to be a place of purification. There is a temple of a different that bears the name of the Greek god and its at 253 West 125th Street Harlem in New York City. The Apollo Theater would become as famous as the temple at Delphi. The Apollo Theaters home was in Harlem. Harlem is known worldwide as a major African-American cultural and business neighborhood.
It wasn’t always the Harlem we know today. Harlem didn’t become an African American neighborhood until the Great Migration. During the first decade of the 20th century, Growing unemployment and increasing racial violence encouraged blacks to leave the South. The way they came up north was by working for northern manufacturers who had recruited the southern black workers to fill factory jobs. So from 1910 to 1930 between 1. 5 million and 2 million African Americans left the South for the industrial cities of the North.
By 1930 more than 200,000 blacks had moved to New York. As black communities in Northern cities grew, black working people became the patrons for an expanding black professional and business class, gaining in political and economic power. As more and more educated and socially conscious blacks settled in New York’s neighborhood of Harlem, it developed into the political and cultural center of black America. During the 1910s a Jose 2 new political agenda advocating racial equality arose in the African American community, particularly in its growing middle class.
A black middle class had developed by the turn of the century, fostered by increased education and employment opportunities. There was something emerging in the midst of social and intellectual up rise in the African American community in the early 20th century. Harlem Renaissance was the name of the African American cultural movement of the 1920s and early 1930s that was centered in the Harlem. The Apollo Theater has been the most lasting legacy of the Harlem Renaissance. The Apollo grew to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance of the pre-World War II years.
By the time the Apollo had open its doors the Harlem Renaissance was coming to a close. The Apollo Theater that we know today didn’t start out that way. It began as a all white music hall and burlesque theatre. It gained fame a Hurtig and Seamon’s Burlesque in the twenties and early thirties. The 125th street Apollo Theater didn’t open until January 1934. This is when they started showcasing black entertainment. The Apollo theatre was originally owned by Sidney Cohen. After Sydney S. Cohen’s death, Morris Sussman and Frank Schiffman got together.
Schiffman ran the Harlem Opera House and a merger between the two theaters was formed. Schiffman is credited with guiding the Apollo Theater to greatness. Schiffman’s motivation for featuring black talent and entertainment was not only because the neighborhood had become black over a two hundred year period of gradual migration, but because black entertainers were cheaper to hire, and Schiffman could offer quality shows for reasonable rates. For many years Apollo was the only theater in New York City to hire black talent. Jose 3
With black performers as the main entertainment in the Apollo came an important facet of American life that has been dominated by blacks. That is jazz. In jazz the black man stands supreme. The products of his creative energies are sought after by musicians and listeners of every background. Jazz didn’t start in the Apollo theatre. It didn’t start in Harlem either. The roots of jazz lie deep in the history of New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago, and New York. The true ancestral roots are buried even deep in the music traditions of West Africa and Latin countries.
But the Apollo was one of the places that provided a home and a receptive atmosphere in which jazz practitioners felt at ease, where their art could thrive and flourish. Although jazz was a true American genre of music it was formerly held in relatively low class by certain intellectual. Many believe the reason for the low appraisal of jazz’ value was made because most of the jazz practitioners were black and the critics were white. Although the Apollo Theater was essentially a black theater, the main interest was always in quality rather than color.
Even though jazz was predominantly the creation of black musicians, the amount of interracial jazz was relatively small thought the history of early jazz. It wasn’t because of discrimination from the performers but rather the performers were keeping up with the climate of the times. Many white musicians were accepted with respect and affection by Apollo audience. The first show was called “Jazz a la Carte”. All the proceeds of this show were donated to the Harlem Children’s Fresh Air Fund. Since then the Apollo Theater is known for starting careers of many music pioneers. In 1934, it introduced its regular Amateur Night shows.
Billing itself as a place “where stars are born and legends are made,” the Apollo became famous for launching the careers of artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Diana Ross ; The Supremes, Gladys Knight ; The Pips, The Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye, Luther Jose 4 Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, Mariah Carey, The Isley Brothers, Lauryn Hill, and Sarah Vaughan. The Apollo also featured the performances of old-time vaudeville favorites like Tim Moore, Stepin Fetchit, Godfrey Cambridge, Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham, Moms Mabley, Marshall “Garbage” Rogers, and Johnny Lee.
The Apollo didn’t only make careers but they also had big name artist. By the mid-thirties, the era of the big band was in full swing. Of all the personalities we ever played at the Apollo, none were as vibrant as Fats Waller. There was never any question about Fats playing the Apollo. It was a semi-annual engagement, which he never missed. The Luis Russell Band was a band that was put together to showcase the talent of Louis Armstrong. They played a 1937 engagement at the Apollo without Louis, who had left the band by then.
They band did include clarinetist Barney Bigard, who later starred with Ellington; Big Sid Catlett, who also played with Hines, on drums; and trumpeter Henry “Red’ Allen. Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong are probably two of the most influential men in the history of jazz. Louis Armstrong played with them all because they all wanted to play with the master. In 1949, Louis’ band in an Apollo show included such legendary figures as trombonist and vocalist Jack Teagarden, drummer Cozy Cole, clarinetist Barney Bigard, pianist Earl Hines, and bassist Arvel Shaw.
A jazz lover could only be at awe at this line up. Louis influences everyone, even the singers. Billie Holiday once spoke about how she wanted to sing exactly as Louis played his horn. The fun-loving genius had vocal trick of finishing his songs with “Oh Yeah”. In 1939 Duke Ellington played the Apollo. He had played there and at the Harlem Opera House and the Lafayette and, of course, was legendary figure at the old Cotton Club. He played the Apollo again, again, and again. He was one of the Jose 5 giants and one of the transcending figures in jazz history.
You can’t talk about Duke Ellington musical genius without talking about the incredible number of compositions that he penned. Probably in the whole history of music no one has composed more songs the Ellington. There is said to be over two thousand songs. Women were also very popular in the Apollo Theater. Most of the women were singers, the major exceptions being pianists Mary Lou Williams and Hazel Scott. They were the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Another talented jazzwoman was Blanche Calloway, sister of Cab Calloway.
Although she frequently copied Cab’s style as a leader, she was a serious musician. Later Blanche ran a club in Washington and brought us Ruth Brown, who became a major Apollo attraction. In addition to introducing a vast number of rising stars, the Apollo quickly became a vital stop for any black entertainer, and virtually every major African American musical act performed there at least once as did several white acts, who often were booked because they were assumed to be black. The management maintained a policy of alternating live stage shows with B movies.
The Apollo was the pinnacle of the “classic circuit” of venues including the Regal Theater in Chicago and the Howard Theater in Washington, D. C. that catered to African American audiences. As a show of respect for its legacy, the building was left untouched during the riots of the 1960s. In 1977 the shows were discontinued, and the theatre was operated as a movie theatre. A year later the building was closed. Purchased by investors in 1981, the Apollo received landmark status in 1983, was renovated, and was reopened to the public in 1985. | | | | | | | |
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