woensdag 5 oktober 2011

Hurtig & Seaman's new burlesque theater A.K. Apollo


Unlike black literature and art, black musical theater
was already well-known by the 1900’s.  Black theater used elements of minstrelsy when creating their shows to gain large audience. Initially black musicals dealt with only a few topics, which were the return to Africa movement, their concerns with the relationship between white society and themselves, and gambling.  Many shows also included “swindles perpetuated by fast-talking dandies,” which usually involved money, property, and oil strikes.  They later began to explore topics involving rent party scenes, prohibition, stardom on Broadway, and the new black image.  Until the 1930’s, most black musicals were only attended by black audiences and considered the “needs” of whites to be a secondary goal.  While many black musicals were performed in New York in the 1920’s, nearly all of them were only performed in Harlem, where few whites attended.  Shuffle Along (1921) brought black theater to Broadway and sparked a new interest for black art among the white community.
In 1914, a new building was constructed on 125th Street in Harlem. Named “Hurtig and Seaman’s New Burlesque Theater,” the theatre 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.  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. Apollo really became a famous theatre. Not only for white people, but also for the black.

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