Sources: Music Times – By Ryan Book | All Things Michael
New York City is full of famous music venues but few if any can live up to the flory of The Apollo Theater in Harlem, which has hosted the legendary Amateur Night for more than 50 years, as well as playing host to James Brown‘sLive at the Apollo, which many consider to be among the greatest live albums of all time. Few realize the dark period the venue went through during the ’70s and ’80s however, totaling nearly ten years where the famous stage was closed. It would be bought and given a shot in the arm however, reopening during May 1985, ready again to host the rowdiest of concerts. Music Times has dug through the last 30 years to find some of the most momentous events and great concerts held at The Apollo since it reopened.
“Motown Salutes The Apollo” (1985)
It’s only fitting that one of the biggest night’s in the venue’s history was the night the concert hall reopened. Motown hails from Detroit, of course, but no one at Berry Gordy‘s label would deny the role that the Apollo had in popularizing its biggest acts thanks to its touring Motown Revue. After all, Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5 had played Amateur Night before becoming one of the biggest acts out of Motown. It was a concert experience that goes beyond the imagination of those who could only watch on TV: Stevie Wonder, Little Richard, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and Wilson Pickett were among the former members of the Motown label in attendance. On top of that, other stars affiliated with other labels—such as Rod Stewart, George Michael and Al Green stopped by as well. The night was emceed by Bill Cosby (who cut his teeth as a comedian upon the same stage), but of course the highlight of the night was the appearance by James Brown, the performer who above all made the venue legendary. The event also saluted the 50th anniversary of the theater’s founding, not just its renovation.
Mariah Carey (1990)
Mariah Carey was going to make it, regardless of how her performance at The Apollo went. She had already been singed to Columbia Records and she was prepared to release her debut self-titled album that year. Nonetheless, an appearance for the native New Yorker at one of the shrines to R&B and soul music provided a test of will. As many a contestant at Amateur Night has found out, the audience at the Apollo doesn’t necessarily count politeness among its best qualities: If you hit the spot, you’ll be rewarded with cheers. If you don’t, expect the boos and catcalls to rain down until someone escorts you from the stage. Carey stood and delivered, hitting all the notes that have continued to awe critics for more than 25 years. Some have argued that even then, before having any of her record-setting no. 1s, she had diva down. That said, not everyone who gets booed out of the Apollo is a failure. Lauryn Hill got bashed at the young age of 13 but obviously fought her way back into music’s good graces.
Just ask anyone who watched the Super Bowl during 2007: Prince is a pretty great live performer. The Purple One brought his smashing live performance to The Apollo as part of the Showtime At The Apollo program, which had been going for six year at that point. Being a bigger act than normal, the concert was also broadcast on VH1 and MTV. Although, technically the performer wasn’t Prince on that night…it was the ankh-arrow (“love symbol #2″) that Prince had adopted as his name at the time, becoming what we now know as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.” Regardless of his title, few performers best sum up the history of The Apollo like Prince: His R&B stylings and passionate vocals might be obvious homages, but his soulful guitar playing also hails to another performer that had once graced the same stage: Jimi Hendrix. That legendary player once won the top prize at amateur night with his guitar.
Tony Bennett (1997)
Tony Bennett might not seem like an obvious performer for The Apollo but had to know in 1997 that the venue was essential for the show he was going to perform. He had released the album Bennett on Holiday as a tribute to Billie Holiday that year, featuring 19 tracks from the deceased icon’s career. She was just another of the many performers that became legends while performing at The Apollo and Bennett intended to honor her at the same venue. Although he had solid out multiple shows at Carnegie Hall that week, he insisted that his show in Harlem have ticket prices realistic enough for fans both rich and less so to intend. Thus he rolled prices back to $8.50, the cost of a ticket to Holiday’s last show at the venue in 1957 (that price also got you a movie back then). He closed with Holiday’s famous “God Bless The Child.”
Michael Jackson (2002)
The de facto star of the Jackson 5 was unable to attend the Motown Salutes show as a result of being the biggest performer in the universe at that moment. He did, however, come into town for a Democratic National Convention fundraiser that was held at the theatre during 2002. Jackson, then 43, played hits such as “Dangerous” and “Black Or World.” Although other performers, such as the aforementioned Diana Ross and Tony Bennett, as well as k.d. lang were on hand, most of the attention was on Jackson, who performed less and less during those years. Tickets pushed $5,000 for the gig, resulting in nearly $3 million raised for the “Every Vote Counts” campaign. The show would be notable for a far more unfortunate reason however: It was the last time that Jackson ever performed publicly.
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