Some of music's biggest stars came out Monday night to this year's Apollo Theater Spring Gala. Top awards went to Lionel Richie and Etta James, who were both inducted into the Apollo Hall of Fame. But others, such as Soul Train's Don Cornelius and Whitney Houston, were remembered for their massive contributions to music as well. The Root was in attendance to capture a few comments and highlights from several of the event's guests.
The Root: What does it mean to you to honor Don Cornelius tonight at the Apollo Spring Gala?
Eddie Levert: We've had some great moments together privately and publicly. I'd seen him about a month before [his death] happened, and we hung out at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The O'Jays were doing a show with the Whispers and he came back[stage]. We just kept telling stories and joking around until they just threw us out of there finally. When we left, we set up a date to do it again that never came to be.
I miss him. I just wish, like with all things, maybe I could've said something. Maybe I could've done something to make it better, but I'm here to honor a great man, a great achiever.
The Root: What is your craziest story from your days hosting Showtime at the Apollo?
Sinbad: A man or a woman, I don't know what it was, but I was in my dressing room — all the amateurs changed in the basement — and a woman went into my bathroom as a woman and then came out as a man, and sang on Amateur Night. She was ahead of her time, it was an Obama moment. I'll never forget that night.
The Root: Tell us about honoring Lionel Richie and Etta James.
Tina Campbell: We got our start as songwriters, and Lionel's, like, the ultimate songwriter. There's a Lionel Richie song playing around the world somewhere at all times.
Erica Campbell: We are now singing "All Night Long" in tribute to him, so it's absolutely amazing to be here with legends that have really shaped the way the world sees urban music, so to be a part of it is pretty historic.
The Root: Can you talk about the reception you and the Commodores received in Harlem back in the day?
Lionel Richie: You have to understand that Harlem is home — this is our Carnegie Hall, this is our Madison Square, this is our palace, this is our temple. When talent couldn't get in any other building in this town, this was the building we wanted to get in.
And even if you go back and listen to the words of the great white entertainers … they'd say, "We'd always sneak uptown to the Apollo, see what the Nicholas Brothers were doing or whatever act was there, and then we'd go downtown and try to put it our show." In other words, this was the place to find the real talent.
A recently slimmed-down Chaka Khan sings in honor of her friend, the late Whitney Houston.
Danny Glover on presenting Lionel Richie with the Hall of Fame Award: Lionel's music speaks about love in so many ways — love for our people, love of a woman, love of God. He's an artist who is one with his emotions and transfers them in a way that we can all relate to. A man who's responsible for writing some of the greatest ballads in music history can't just do it because he's lucky. He does it because it's in him.
R&B's Empress of Soul Gladys Knight sings a tribute to Etta James, who was inducted into the Apollo Hall of Fame.
Lionel Richie on accepting his award: Let me tell you something. You have no idea when you start out as a kid down the street on 135th Street and Seventh Avenue, Small's Paradise, with the greatest band in the world called the Commodores, and you pull up in front of the YMCA between 135th Street and Lenox. You walk in and you say, "Let's check in here for the first time." We go in, we get a key, we come back out, and all of our equipment is gone in our van, and the policeman said, "Welcome to Harlem, Lionel and the Commodores." It was from that moment that I knew there was going to be some magic happening in the air.