Apollo Spring Gala brings out cream of the crop
David Goodson | 6/6/2012, 6:22 p.m.
Deftly handling his duties as host of the Apollo Theater 2012 Spring Gala, actor-comedian Sinbad, who gained a significant following during his 1989-1991 stint as host of "It's Showtime at the Apollo," set the tone early by stating, "There's going to be a serious void in funk, soul and R&B in a few years. Young folks, y'all ain't gonna have old-school concerts."
At the pace that that we are losing our trailblazers and icons, any time we get to pay honest, heartfelt homage should be relished. Additionally, being able to salute giants that are still amongst us, makes for an event that's special. June 4 at the Apollo was one of those occasions, as the Spring Gala inducted Lionel Richie and Etta James into the hallowed halls of the Apollo Hall of Fame. Those two join Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Patti LaBelle, Michael Jackson and Smokey Robinson.
Setting off the show were tributes to those who have recently passed on: Whitney Houston, Etta James and Nicholas Ashford, handled respectively by Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight and Valerie Simpson. Simpson's acknowledgment that many of the songs she and her partner in song and in life, Ashford, composed now have a different meaning while slowing down the pace for an emotional rendition of one of their signature tunes, "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing." Eddie Levert of the O'Jays gave a few words on behalf of the last tribute recipient, Don Cornelius.
Apollo Theater President Jonelle Procope made mention that the contributions of Donna Summers and Hal Jackson were monumental and to be remembered in high esteem before awarding Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup, the 2012 Corporate Award in recognition of their leadership in the community.
When the musical portion of the gala resumed, it was time to reflect on the career of Richie. His career, which includes his stint with the Commodores, boasts record sales in the hundreds of millions and countless No. 1 records in the genres of R&B, pop and country, including his latest effort, "Tuskegee." Richie has proven to be a musical juggernaut. In fact, when artists reach that level of success, finding their way back home can prove to be just as big an achievement.
With reverence, Richie relayed memories of playing the Small Paradise nightclub and gave props to his former manager Benny Ashburn and the Apollo itself, acknowledging that Harlem has provided the foundation for the perch he presently presides upon. "This is our temple. This is our Carnegie Hall, our Madison Square Garden. As part of the Commodores, we first played here as the opening act for the farewell of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Sandman told us you got 15 seconds. If you're good, you won't see me; if you're bad, I'm coming out quick.
"We got a standing ovation that night, and they told us that we were endorsed by this building. Before the world knew about the Commodores or about me, the Apollo gave us the stamp of approval. This award is going right next to my Oscar."