(Updated: Feb. 22nd, 2017): Amateur Night at the Apollo kicks off its 2017 season tonight with a new line up of contestants. Every Wednesday night from now until June 28th, aspiring musicians, dancers, rappers and spoken word poets will take the stage at the iconic theater in Harlem to vie for the title of Super Top Dog. This year marks the 83rd season the Apollo has hosted celebrated weekly talent show which has launched the career of major musical legends including James Brown, Michael Jackson and D’Angelo among others. Experiencing Amateur Night at the Apollo is an NYC right of passage so if you’ve never done it, this year is the year to check it out. Tickets range from $21-$33 and can be bought on line or at the box office.
Oct. 27, 2016: Few other points of interest are as deeply entwined in a neighborhood’s character and history as Harlem‘s Apollo Theater. Equal parts neighborhood institution and international attraction, the Apollo and its famous marquee are recognized across the city and across the world as symbols of black music and culture. Although the Apollo rose to prominence as stage for performers of gospel, soul and the blues, over the years the theater has attracted diverse talent from the likes of Buddy Holly, the Jackson 5 and Bob Marley to Barack Obama and Amy Schumer.
Chief among the Apollo’s legacy, however, is Amateur Night. Every Wednesday night for over 80 years, the Apollo has hosted Amateur Night at the Apollo, a talent show that attracts aspiring musicians, dancers and comedians from around the world to perform in front of a packed house of 1,500 people. “Be good or be gone” is the name of the game. Performers must prove their talent to applauding audiences or get off the stage to jeers and boos. It’s not easy, but, hey that’s show business.
If you have never been to Amateur Night at the Apollo or any show at the Apollo for that matter, you owe it to yourself to go. Your stock as a seasoned New Yorker will immediately rise as will your appreciation for our city’s rich cultural history and impressive creative talent. Not sold yet? Watch this video and we’ll bet you’ll be planning your visit stat.
The History of the Apollo Theater
Designed by George Keister, The Apollo opened in 1914 as Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater, a whites-only venue. In the 1930s, Fiorello La Guardia — then a state congressman — led a campaign against burlesque clubs, which caused the theater to halt performances and close its doors.
The theater’s owner, Sidney Cohen, saw a opportunity in appealing to Harlem’s flourishing black community. When the theater reopened as The Apollo in 1935, it boasted revamped interiors and more progressive policies. It would be one of the first venues to allow black performers on stage and to host integrated audiences.
Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater
That opened year marked the birth of Amateur Night at the Apollo, the theater’s longest-running and most beloved traditions. Every Wednesday night, unknown talent comes to the Apollo to perform before a full house. Before the show, the evening’s performers rub “The Tree of Hope” for good luck and favorable audiences. Many stars got their start on this stage, including Jimi Hendrix and the Jackson 5 to Ella Fitzgerald, Patti LaBelle and Lauryn Hill.
Backstage, the names of the past performers can be found on the wall of signatures. As long as the Apollo Theater stands, it will remain a place where, as the famous marquee reads, “Stars are born and legends are made.”