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)
Flip Wilson, one of the most beloved comedians to play the Apollo Theater, appeared there regularly during the 1960s. From 1970 to 1974, he starred in the Emmy Award-winning “Flip Wilson Show;” in 1971, he also won a Golden Globe for best actor in a television series. Although Apollo audiences famously employed boos and derision to dismiss any act that failed their acid talent test, they served for many entertainers, including Wilson, as a source of inspiration and a gauge of success. “It sounded as if the whole world was going to explode with laughter and any second the balconies would fall,” Wilson recalled. “It’s a sound I’ve never heard anywhere else, and it made such an impression that I compare the sound of every audience to that sound.”
“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.