Legends of the Apollo

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

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


Aretha Franklin Apollo Theater
(Maura McCarthy)
Still an Apollo Theater favorite, Aretha Franklin generated a string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s that came to epitomize the very essence of the soul music genre. “Franklin’s fullthroated voice, highly melismatic runs, blue notes, hums, moans and groans make her responsible, probably more than any singer in history, for bringing the mechanics of gospel into mainstream music,” says Guthrie Ramsey, co-curator of an exhibition about the Apollo currently on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. They also earned her the sobriquet “The Queen of Soul.” Yet Franklin’s gifts are not limited to a single musical category or to vocals. Though praised for her singing, Franklin is underrated as a piano player and songwriter, says Werner. “She’s right up there with Carole King as a songwriter and one of the best pianists that ever lived,” he says. “She took jazz, gospel and blues and made them her own, defining the period between 1967 and 1975.”

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