Maurice Hines on the Legacy of the Apollo Theater

The legendary dancer talks about starting his career in Harlem and his upcoming Sammy Davis Jr. project

Maurice Hines, left, joins his brother Gregory (now deceased) in the finale of the smash 1981 Broadway musical Sophisticated Ladies. (© Corbis)

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My dancers—we did Sophisticated Ladies in Washington, D.C., and had great success with it, turning away 200 people in a 1,200-seat house the last two weekends. That show’s going on the road, London—but my dancers were falling out like flies. It was so cute, 17- and 20-year-olds missing shows. I’m 66; I didn’t miss one show. They said, “How’re you doing 12 numbers a show?” On the weekend that’s 48 numbers. “I said cause I’m trained not to miss a show.” I hope one day the show goes to the Apollo.

Why? What makes the Apollo so special for you?
Because Duke [Ellington] was a big star there. The show represents not only the greatness of his music, which, of course, stands alone, but it was also a very glamorous show. Those were very glamorous times. We didn’t know there was another downtown. There were a lot of nightclubs and jazz clubs [in Harlem] and Duke and all the great musicians lived on Sugar Hill in Harlem. When you did the Apollo, it represented the top of the line and the people came to the Apollo dressed to the nines to see those shows.

Also, it’s coming home to me. Since Gregory did the show before me, it’ll be like Gregory and I on that stage again when we started at 7 and 5. I did Gregory’s memorial at the Apollo. Everybody came, Diahann Carroll, Chita Rivera, all of our friends came and performed. I had pictures of Gregory, and I tapped with a spotlight next to me, as if Gregory was tapping with me. I did the same soft shoe we did. It was very emotional. So I want this show to go there.

Why are you doing a show about Sammy?
Sammy Davis Jr. was the greatest all-around entertainer in the world. He did everything. He played every musical instrument, he tapped unbelievably, he sang fantastically—forget about Candy Man—he could sing “My Funny Valentine” and all of that. Also, what he did on the Apollo stage, I’ll never forget it, which is why I fell in love with him and said I’m going to do that. He sat on the edge of the stage with a cup of tea and just talked to the Apollo audience. I think it was for about ten minutes. He needed to rest his voice, but he just talked. Now the Apollo audience ain’t no pushover, but he had them in the palm of his hand with a cup of tea. That kind of rapport means the audience loves everything you do and say.

What is the Apollo’s place in history?
It was the premier showcase. If you didn’t play the Apollo, you hadn’t made it. It was sort of like the Orpheum circuit; if you didn’t play the Palace on Broadway, you hadn’t made it. It was the same way with the Apollo. You could play the Howard in D.C., the Uptown in Philly. All over the country, they had these wonderful African-American theaters for African-American audiences. But the prestige was the Apollo. We were called “the Hines Kids direct from the Apollo Theater.” We became big on that circuit because we came from the Apollo Theater.

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