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The Apollo Theater in 1934.

The Apollo Theater in 1934. (Credit: The Apollo Theater)

culture

Secrets of the Apollo Theater

253 W 125th St, New York, NY 10027

The Apollo Theater is one of Manhattan's most iconic theaters, and its contributions to African-American culture are significant, serving as a place to showcase, initially, Harlem's culture and talent, when other venues wouldn't.

Times have changed and, for decades, countless iconic performers -- spanning the musical spectrum -- have graced the Apollo's stage.

Below, amNewYork uncovers the secrets of the legendary venue.

The theater -- built in 1914 as Hurtig

Credit: New York Public Library

The Apollo is synonymous with African-American culture, but the space was whites-only originally

The theater -- built in 1914 as Hurtig and Seamon's New Burlesque Theater by producers Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon -- enforced a strict whites-only policy until it shuttered its doors in 1928. They staged productions across the city (above, a flier for one of their productions). In 1933, the space was purchased by businessman Sidney Cohen, who owned other theaters in the area. After extensive renovations, it reopened as the Apollo Theater in 1934, catering to Harlem's African-American community.

In 1934, around the time the Apollo was

Credit: Shahar Azran

The Tree of Hope, rubbed by Amateur Night performers for luck, was cut down in 1934

In 1934, around the time the Apollo was opening, the city widened Seventh Avenue between West 131th Street and West 132th Street, where the legendary Harlem Lafayette Theater -- the top venue in Harlem at the time -- was located. One of the trees located outside the theater was a magnet for aspiring stars who believed that standing underneath it would give them good luck. Once the street was widened, the tree was cut up for firewood and some pieces were sold as lucky souvenirs. The master of ceremonies for Apollo's Amateur Night, Ralph Cooper, bought a piece of the tree and took it back to the Apollo. Ever since, Amateur Night performers have touched The Tree of Hope for good luck.

Offstage, behind stage right, is the Wall of

Credit: Shahar Azran

The backstage “Wall of Signatures” kicked off when crew asked performers to sign it

Offstage, behind stage right, is the Wall of Signatures, featuring hundreds of autographs spanning the public figure spectrum, including those from the Jackson 5, 50 Cent, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, Mary J. Blige (pictured, above in 2013) and countless others. But unless you plan on taking to the Apollo's stage or you opt for a tour, you might not see it.

Ella Fitzgerald (pictured, at the Apollo during the

Credit: The Apollo Theater

Ella Fitzgerald made her singing debut at the Apollo -- on a dare by friends

Ella Fitzgerald (pictured, at the Apollo during the early 1960s) made her debut at the age of 17 at the Apollo on Nov. 21, 1934, during Amateur Night. She signed up as a dancer on a dare from two friends. But at the last minute, she chose to sing because she felt intimidated when she saw she was to follow the Edwards Sisters, a popular local dance duo. She won $25, and the following year, she joined the Chick Webb Orchestra.

When Ray Charles used to perform at the

Credit: The Apollo Theater

Ray Charles used to play cards in the alley behind the Apollo

When Ray Charles used to perform at the Apollo, he would often head to the alley behind the theater and play cards with Cannonball Adderly between shows. Other artists who also spent several hours at the Apollo made themselves at home: Jackie "Moms" Mabley and Solomon Burke would cook in their dressing rooms, using hot plates. Burke was known for his gravy.

Since 1934, Amateur Night at the Apollo has

Credit: The Apollo Theater

The Apollo employs an 'executioner' -- not that type of executioner!

Since 1934, Amateur Night at the Apollo has featured an "executioner," essentially someone who ushers performers offstage after audience members call for their removal. The first executioner, according to Apollo public relations director Nina Flowers, was stagehand Norman Miller -- dubbed "Porto Rico" -- who, carrying a prop pistol, would give the contestant an unceremonious heave-ho if they were booed. Then in the 1950s, tap dancer Howard "Sandman" Sims assumed the role. His signature move? "Sweeping" contestants off the stage with a broom. Sims' reign ended in 1999, when C.P. Lacey, the current executioner, took over. Lacey gives contestants the boot in a less harsh way than his predecessors did, by "dancing" the aspiring stars offstage.

Following the lead of late performers Tupac Shukar

Credit: New York Public Library

Billie Holiday will soon make an appearance -- sort of

Following the lead of late performers Tupac Shukar and Michael Jackson, Billie Holiday (pictured) will soon rise from the dead in the form of a hologram. The Apollo's Nina Flowers tells amNewYork the launch date has yet to be determined, but the hologram will be a key aspect during daytime tours of the facility. "People want to know about the history of the Apollo and this is a great way to tell it in a new and refreshing way," says Flowers. "This is offering people an Apollo experience with an Apollo legend."

At the 2014 premiere of the James Brown

Credit: Getty Images

Mick Jagger 'tried to run' from James Brown during an Apollo concert

At the 2014 premiere of the James Brown biopic "Get On Up," produced by Mick Jagger and held at the Apollo, Jagger reportedly told attendees: "I came to watch James Brown later in my career, I was sitting down in the back of the [ground floor]. He asked me to come onstage and I tried to run out ... and they forced me to come onstage!"

Mick Jagger, pictured at the

Credit: Getty Images

Another Jagger tale: His first James Brown concert at the Apollo went to pot

Mick Jagger, pictured at the "Get On Up" premiere at the Apollo in 2014, told filmgoers about the first time he saw James Brown perform at the Apollo. "I sat in the balcony, two o'clock in the afternoon," he's quoted as saying in reports. "There was a lady next to me smoking a big joint. I didn't ask for any, but I did look longingly at it."

In 1996, Jay Z performed a track at

Credit: Getty Images

Jay Z performed a track dissing Tupac Shakur at the Apollo -- but oddly there’s no recording

In 1996, Jay Z performed a track at the Apollo slamming Tupac Shakur. But it's become an urban myth at this point. In a 2006 interview with XXL magazine, Jay Z collaborator DJ Clark Kent confirmed the track existed, but he was perplexed that there's no evidence Jay Z recorded it or even performed it at the Apollo. "They usually tape the Apollo shows, but they just stopped taping it for some reason," he told the magazine. "We tried to find the tape. It's 2,000 people that know about it." The Apollo's Nina Flowers also confirmed the track was performed at the Apollo.

In November 1999, nu metal band Korn played

Credit: The Apollo Theater

It wasn't until 1999 that the 'first real rock' band played at the Apollo

In November 1999, nu metal band Korn played a one-time engagement at the Apollo, kicking off the theater's foray into other musical genres. At the time, a rep for the Apollo told the New York Post: "This is the Apollo's first real rock concert. We want Korn. We want country acts. We see ourselves as the uptown equivalent of the Beacon Theatre."

Following Sammy Davis Jr.'s devastating 1954 car accident,

Credit: amazon.com

Sammy Davis Jr. made his comeback at the Apollo

Following Sammy Davis Jr.'s devastating 1954 car accident, which cost him his left eye, he booked his first comeback show at the Apollo, where he had tap-danced for years as a child prodigy with the Will Mastin Trio. A year later, he released his album "Starring Sammy Davis Jr."

Yes, times have changed. Depending on the day,

Credit: Library of Congress

Got a buck or two? During Apollo's early days, that was enough to see a show

Yes, times have changed. Depending on the day, the price of admission to the Apollo was one or two dollars -- and you could arrive before lunch and stay until after midnight. Needless to say, the price of admission is much more now, depending on the act.

Jimi Hendrix snagged the first-place prize of $25

Credit: amazon.com

Jimi Hendrix won a whopping $25 for his amateur night performance

Jimi Hendrix snagged the first-place prize of $25 at a Wednesday amateur night in February 1964, beginning the trajectory of his career. His first album, "Are You Experienced" (above), was released three years later.

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