Duke Ellington performed regularly here, and Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday both launched their careers at the venue’s amateur night. You can say that the Apollo Theater was the ‘Motown’ before Motown. Today, the theater stands as an artifact on the bustling 125th street.
Sarah Vaughan plays the piano as Duke Ellington and Billy Eckstine look on, circa 1950. The Newark, NJ-born Ms. Vaughan studied piano as a child and went on to win first prize at the Apollo Theater’s famous Amateur Night competition. Billy Eckstine was in the audience that night and before long, Ms. Vaughan would sing with Mr. Eckstine in his band. Her recording of “The Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 1 and 2,” is still unmatched for its beauty and brilliance. Photo by Gilles Pet
125TH STREET, HARLEM, NY. May, 1993 - This fellow calls himself "Dancing Harry." He can usually be found near the world famous Apollo Theater making his moves on a slick board to the sounds of Soul Brother #1 James Brown.
Gladys Bentley was a lively, piano-playing blues and jazz singer. Hailing from Trinidad, Bentley performed at speakeasies (including Clam House, the most notorious gay speakeasy) across the country, clad in her famous tuxedo and top hat, boasting her sexuality, raunchy lyrics, and play on gender identity. Bentley penned a memoir, "If This Be Sin," joining other queer black intellectuals and performers in Harlem.