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.”
Richie’s tribute–the jazz-tinged version of “Hello” by Chaka Khan, Mary Mary’s cover of “All Night Long” and the roof-raising “Jesus is Love” performed by Donnie McClurkin and the Tuskegee Choir–was the highlight of the night, even surpassing Richie gracing the stage for “Three Times a Lady” and “Easy.” The Apollo will get another memorable night on June 14 as Jill Newman Productions brings Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) to the venue.
This weekend, June 8 and 9, Jill Newman Productions brings another of our legends, Jimmy Scott, to Harlem for a rare performance at Ginny’s Supper Club, located at the Red Rooster Harlem, 310 Lenox Ave. at 125th Street. Scott, who’s had a 60-year run in the music industry, is quite thrilled to be returning.
“Harlem was the youth of my career,” he said. “The first time I worked in Harlem was in 1947. I was 21 years old, it was at the Baby Grand. They hired me for one week and kept me for three months straight! Since then, I’ve worked the Apollo many times and other clubs.
“I am overjoyed to be back in Harlem working at the Red Rooster in 2012 at age 86. Harlem has been a blessing to me.”
Proprietor of the restaurant, world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson, shared his enthusiasm, saying, “We’re thrilled and honored to be hosting this music legend at Ginny’s. Jimmy Scott and his music epitomize just the kind of vibe we have at our supper club–soulful, inspiring and genuine. We’re creating a special menu for our guests that night and look forward to making it a memorable event.” Showtimes are 8 and 10 p.m. and prices are $50 for those dining and $20 for standing.
I’m gone. Holla next week. Until then, enjoy the nightlife.