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The Apollo celebrates 80 years

Cyril Josh Barker | 6/16/2014, 2:17 p.m.
Harlem's crown jewel, the Apollo Theater, celebrates its 80th birthday this week, with a star-studded, music-filled event during the Annual ...
Apollo Theater

Harlem's crown jewel, the Apollo Theater, celebrates its 80th birthday this week, with a star-studded, music-filled event during the Annual Spring Gala. On top of celebrating eight decades of entertainment, the Apollo also honored BNY Mellon and Richard Parsons.

Although the Apollo usually hosts an induction into its Hall of Fame, this year celebrated the theaters rich legacy, highlighting the music, dance and comedy that has graced the stage. With Wayne Brady serving as host for the evening, musical performances were given by Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, Joss Stone, the Isley Brothers, Doug E. Fresh, Savion Glover and Edwin Hawkins. Also featured during the evening was the Australian singing group Human Nature, who wowed the audience with their rendition of classic Motown hits. Young Matthew Whitaker, taking the keys, backed Wayne Brady.

The performances served as tributes to the various music genres performed at the Apollo since its birth in 1934, such as jazz, gospel, hip-hop and R&B. Fresh from working as music director for ABC's “Dancing With the Stars,” the Apollo's own Ray Chew took the reigns as music director for the show, backed by a 20-piece orchestra.

“Over the last 80 years, the Apollo Theater has been a constant in changing the face of popular music and culture here in Harlem and across the world,” said Jonelle Procope, president and CEO of the Apollo Theater. “Some of the world’s most legendary artists have not only graced this stage, but were nurtured and developed at the Apollo in the beginning of their careers. Instead of honoring one or a few Legends, this year’s gala will pay homage to and spotlight the eight decades of music at the Apollo that changed entertainment forever.”

Parsons was given the Leadership Award in honor of his many years of leadership and service to the Apollo. Parsons has served as Chairman of the Board for the Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc., since 2001, during which he has played an integral role in the revitalization of the theater. The recipient of this year's Corporate Award was BNY Mellon. Chairman and CEO Gerald L. Hassell accepted on behalf of the company.

“The Apollo Theater is both a historic landmark and a cultural icon, with an extraordinary legacy of launching and advancing the careers of African-American artists and making their contributions accessible to broader audiences in New York and around the world,” said Hassell. “As a company that grasps the power of diversity to make institutions stronger and neighborhoods richer, we salute the Apollo for its incomparable contributions to New York’s cultural tapestry.”

This year's gala raised more than $2.5 million. Proceeds from the event support the Apollo’s year-round, world-class performing arts events, education initiatives and community programs, which honor the influence and advance the contributions of African-American artists.

On Wednesday, the Apollo Theater inducted the Isley Brothers into the Hall of Fame during Amateur Night.