There’s a reason why the body of James Brown made its way towards the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City, on December 28, 2006. The Godfather of Soul had died of heart failure two days ago in Atlanta, Georgia. It was at the Apollo, however, that his 24-karat gold coffin was placed, brought there by a carriage drawn by white horses, surrounded by thousands of mourners who had waited for hours to bid him farewell.
What started as a burlesque theatre in 1913 is today a venue respected worldwide for its role in the history of Black America. By the Thirties, it was the largest employer of African-American theatrical workers, hosting the debuts of legends like Billie Holiday and Lena Horne. Among the stars making their first appearance here were Dinah Washington and Sammy Davis, Jr, followed by John Coltrane and Miles Davis in the Forties and Thelonious Monk in the Fifties.
Winners of its Amateur Night in the Sixties included Gladys Night and Jimi Hendrix. To visit the Apollo at any time is a blessing. Go now not for the great performances it will line up (as it always does), but because few venues are as storied, as emblematic of a race and as powerful a witness to humanity’s continuing struggle for equal rights. Visit to honor its guests from the past; artistes who just happened to be among the most important to walk this earth.