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January 26: The Apollo Theater

January 26, 2014
[caption id=“attachment_24772” align=“alignright” width=“300”]photo by Peter Crown photo by Peter Crown[/caption] Harlem’s Apollo Theater opened its doors as an entertainment center for the African-American community for the first time on this date in 1934 with a show, “Jazz a la Carte,” headlined by Benny Carter and his Orchestra. All the proceeds of this show were donated to the Harlem Children’s Fresh Air Fund. Founded in 1913 in a different location, the Apollo had been one of New York’s leading burlesque venues, opened and operated by Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon, with black theater-goers confined to a section of the balcony. Bill Minsky took over and moved the Apollo to 125th Street in Harlem in 1928, and upon his death in 1932 it was bought by Sydney S. Cohen, who operated several theaters in the city and oriented this one to the growing black community in Harlem. Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher took over the Apollo in 1935, and their families operated it until the late 1970s. One popular feature of the Apollo was “the executioner,” a guy with a broom who would sweep performers off the stage if the audience was razzing them. Musicians whose careers were launched on the Apollo stage included James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, the Isley Brothers, Michael Jackson, and Lauryn Hill. To learn more about Sydney S. Cohen (pictured at right, in a photograph by Peter Crown, on the Hollywood set of “Our Gang”) click here. To watch a four-minute history of the Apollo, look below. apollo-theatre“[T]he Apollo probably exerted a greater influence upon popular culture than any other entertainment venue in the world. For blacks it was the most important cultural institution — not just the greatest black theatre, but a special place to come of age emotionally, professionally, socially, and politically.” —Ted Fox, Showtime at the Apollo Jewdayo Rocks! Laurence “Corky” Laing, drummer with Mountain, was born in Montreal on this date in 1948. To see him beating the drums for 36 seconds, look below.