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James Brown recorded three live performances at the Apollo Theater, in 1962, 1967 and 1971. (Courtesy Smtihsonian Books)

Legends of the Apollo

For more than 75 years, some of the world’s greatest entertainers have performed at the famous Harlem theater

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James Brown Apollo Theater
(Maura McCarthy)
“James Brown was just flatly genius,” says Werner of the musician who recorded three live performances at the Apollo Theater, in 1962, 1967 and 1971. Werner rates Brown among America’s top half-dozen musical geniuses for his showmanship, abilities as a bandleader and musical innovation. “He gave to his audiences without any holding back,” says Werner, who says Brown also “was an absolutely tight bandleader.” When Brown moved his arms, he gave signals to his band to hit rhythmic accents, which underscored everything he did during his high-energy performances.

Brown’s emphasis on rhythm was as enthralling as his showmanship and well-rehearsed band. “He took the center of the music away from melody and harmony and put it dead in the middle of the rhythm,” says Werner. “Call and response is the basic principle in African-American music and James Brown’s audiences always responded to his call.”

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