Legends of the Apollo
For more than 75 years, some of the world’s greatest entertainers have performed at the famous Harlem theater
- By Lucinda Moore
- Smithsonian.com, May 10, 2010
(Courtesy Smtihsonian Books)
On November 21, 1934, a timid teenager stood paralyzed before the demonstrative Apollo Theater audience during amateur night competition. She had rehearsed a dance routine but was preceded by a duo that lived up to its reputation as the best dancers in town. “Do something!” the stage manager urged, so she sang “The Object of My Affection.” Someone in the crowd yelled, “Hey, that little girl can sing!” That girl, 17-year-old Ella Fitzgerald, won first prize and soon was hired by bandleader Chick Webb (on drums), who played New York City’s famous Savoy Ballroom. When Webb died in 1939, Fitzgerald led the band for three years before launching a solo career that would earn her a reputation as one the world’s most extraordinary jazz vocalists, as well as the moniker “The First Lady of Song.”
“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment,” co-sponsored by the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and the Apollo Theater Foundation, is on view through August 29 at the NMAAHC exhibition space in the National Museum of American History. It begins a national tour in October.
A book of the same name is available through Smithsonian Books.