Tag Archives: James Brown

Americana: The Apollo Theater

Virtually every African-American performer of consequence has played the Apollo in the last 75 years. Uploaded by emiliogrosso.com.

In 1914, a new building was constructed on 125th Street in the Harlem section of New York City. Named “Hurtig and Seaman’s New Burlesque Theater,” the establishment opened with one now quite ironic rule — no African-Americans were allowed in the audience.

A couple of decades later, things had changed. Ralph Cooper, Sr. decided to do a live version of his popular radio program “Amateur Night Hour” at what was now known as 125 Street Apollo. The program was a hit, and one of its earliest winners was a special 17-year-old girl named Ella Fitzgerald. (She won $25.) The next year, the theater’s headliners would become musical legends: Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday.

Uploaded by cm1.theinsider.com.

By the mid-1970s, the Apollo fell on hard times, and in 1975 was converted into a movie theater. Fortunately, its place in the history of African-American culture wasn’t forgotten, and Inner City Broadcasting purchased and refurbished the building. It reopened in 1985 with a well-deserved place on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Apollo is now synonymous with music in Harlem, and no wonder. Just look at some of the many entertainers who’ve performed live at the Apollo: Louis Armstrong • Sarah Vaughn • Moms Mabley • Redd Foxx • James Brown • Sam Cooke • Diana Ross & The Supremes • Patti LaBelle • Dionne Warwick • Aretha Franklin • Michael Jackson • Jimi Hendrix • Gladys Knight & The Pips • Marvin Gaye • Luther Vandross • Stevie Wonder • Ben E. King • Mariah Carey • The Isley Brothers

Amateur night at the Apollo continues, a competition that for years could be seen in syndication on the program Showtime at the Apollo

Singer: Bobby Darin

Mack the Knife is in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and Bobby Darin is enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Uploaded by bobbydarin.com.

When Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” hit the charts in 1958, it could have been seen as just another one of the novelty records popular at the time. Another “Purple People Eater,” maybe, or “Witch Doctor.” Then Bobby Darin’s next hit, “Queen of the Hop”, threatened to stereotype him as another teen idol. With Fabian and Frankie Avalon.

Neither of those options was good enough for the ambitious singer, though. Nor should they have been, and his next three releases proved it. “Dream Lover” went to number two in 1959, and was followed by Darin’s only number one single, the amazing “Mack the Knife.” His next single was my favorite, though it “only” made it to number six on the charts: “Beyond the Sea.”

Uploaded to Flickr by RETRO-KIMMER.

Bobby Darin’s talent allowed him to move across the pop, jazz, and country landscapes with ease. Before reaching stardom he wrote songs for leading singers of the day, including Connie Francis. She remembered that sometimes the two would go to the Apollo Theater in Harlem to hear entertainers like James Brown (Great American Things, Sept. 17, 2009) and Ray Charles (Great American Things, May 27, 2009) and would be “the only two white people in the audience.”

Darin’s life was cut short due to heart problems, and he died following unsuccessful surgery in 1973. He was only 37 years old. And yet, during his life he had extensive professional accomplishments. He had eleven top 10 singles, had his own TV variety show, was hugely popular as a headliner in Las Vegas, and was influential in producing songs for others, including Wayne Newton and Roger McGuinn.