Apollo Theater Highlights | TopView

Apollo Theater

Location: 253 W 125th St, New York, NY 10027

Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater located at 253 W. 125th St. (bet. Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvds.) is important not only because it honors and promotes the contributions of black American performers, but also because it is a living example of progress: The building was originally a burlesque theater that did not allow black patrons. There may be no building more associated with great African-American entertainers than the Apollo Theater Harlem.

Since 1934, Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater New York has served as the golden ticket to a big break for many legendary performers, including Ella Fitzgerald. The Jackson 5, James Brown, D’Angelo, Billie Holiday, Gladys Knight, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Jackie Wilson, Dave Chappelle, Sammy Davis Jr., Luther Vandross. and Lauryn Hill, who at 13 was booed by the crowd.  Visit the Apollo Theatre where every Wednesday night there is a slate of new artists from all backgrounds looking to win over the capricious Apollo crowd.

Fast facts:

From 1914 to 1928 the theater (then named Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater) was “whites only”—an ironic beginning considering its eventual place in African-American entertainment history.

• The Apollo Theater reopened with a new name—and open-admission policy—on January 26, 1934, and soon after held its first Amateur Night.

• Later that year, a 17-year-old Ella Fitzgerald won Amateur Night (and a $25 prize), after she made a last-minute decision to switch from dancing to singing.

• One more Amateur Night note: there is a stump, dubbed the Tree of Hope, that performers rub for good luck before they go on; it’s placed on the edge of the stage for Amateur Night (and a replica exists in the lobby). The stump comes from a tree that stood outside the Lafayette Theatre a few blocks away and was cut down when the City widened Seventh Avenue in 1934.

• James Brown, Moms Mabley and B. B. King are among the musicians who have recorded live albums at the Apollo. More recently, Amy Schumer taped a special there.

• Many artists made themselves at home in the Apollo: Ray Charles used to gamble in the back alley and Flip Wilson would sleep under the stage, while Solomon Burke would cook (and sell) food between sets.

• Jay Z performed a “diss” track about Tupac Shakur at the theater, though no recording of the song has ever surfaced.

Nearby attractions:

Bill's Place, 148 W. 133rd St.: It feels like you're entering a 1920s speakeasy for Bill's weekend jazz performances.

The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, 58 W. 129th St. : Harlem is known for jazz; this is the best area spot to learn about the genre.

Red Rooster Harlem, 310 Lenox Ave.: Marcus Samuelsson's restaurant does a modern take on comfort food like fried chicken and spiced meatballs.

Check out upcoming Apollo Theater events.

Getting to the Apollo is a breeze on our Uptown and Harlem tour. Hop off at Stop #23 for the Apollo Theater.

Get to Apollo Theater with our
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This page was edited by Steven Thomas