Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater 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. Visit the Apollo for an Amateur Night, which started the careers of so many legends—including Ella Fitzgerald—or take a historical tour of the building.
This world-famous theater is one of Harlem’s most beloved attractions, best known for showcasing African-American performers. The landmark 1,500-seat venue took on its current identity in 1934; in the years since, performers who have taken its stage include legends like James Brown, Michael Jackson and B.B. King. One of its defining events has long been Amateur Night, now taking place on Wednesdays throughout much of the year, during which entertainers try to impress the tough audience. Those who make the cut often go on to greatness—think Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the Amateur Night audience protocol? Audiences are the talent judges here. If someone doesn’t like the performance, that person boos. If others join in and the booing coalesces into a movement, a comedian nicknamed the Executioner comes onto the stage to remove the performer (but not, we hasten to clarify, to execute them).
Can I audition for Amateur Night? Yes, you can. The Apollo hosts auditions in NYC several times a year. You can also try out for the show by submitting a Vimeo or YouTube video of your performance. Check the venue’s website for audition info.
Has anyone recovered from a rough Amateur Night? Yes, Dave Chappelle and Lauryn Hill among them.
What else is going on at the Apollo? The theater has a second stage, called Soundstage, which hosts an ongoing music café and a comedy series.
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