Bell Biv DeVoe
Photo: Shahar Azran Photography (Apollo Theater)

This week the legendary Apollo Theater celebrated the 13 years of its star-studded annual Spring Gala. Every year the iconic Harlem landmark gathers every ounce of black excellence it can find to raise funds for its year-round artistic- and community-programming initiatives.

Guess how much they raised this year? No ... guess. Over $2 million! Yeah, I know, Blue Ivy would scoff at that, but I am thoroughly impressed!

The Monday-night event was hosted by the ever-hilarious David Alan Grier, who expertly told jokes between each performer. The show opened with performances by two teenage Showtime at the Apollo alums, Aidan Doran and Sarah Ikumu. When I tell you that Sarah’s voice summoned the power of Nina Simone and reached into the ’90s for Tracy Chapman’s pipes, it’s an understatement. She’s soul-stirring, and clearly one of the best amateurs the Apollo has had since Ella Fitzgerald.

And this was just the start! LL Cool J was brought onstage to present SiriusXM’s president and chief content officer, Scott Greenstein, with the Corporate Award in recognition of the company’s outstanding contributions to the performing arts and community leadership. It was like an award reception because Sirius personality Sway Calloway introduced LL, who presented the award to Greenstein. But the performances were far from over.

Tony! Toni! Toné!
Photo: Shahar Azran Photography (Apollo Theater)

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The show brought out Tony! Toni! Toné!, Bell Biv DeVoe, Brandy (who hit us with some Whitney Houston classics, like “How Will I Know” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”), Salt-N-Pepa and newcomers 4th Ave.

OK, so, let me tell you. The crowd, which was dressed to the nines, was given the memo to sit pretty. Not ya girl! When Tony! Toni! Toné! came out and D’Wayne Wiggins hit those signature intro notes for “Anniversary,” I lost my ever-lovin’ mind! My arms swayed, my teenage self screamed, and I threw my head back in nothing but sweet nostalgia.

But it was Bell Biv DeVoe who made me jump up out of my seat, not caring about the people behind me who couldn’t see past my bouncing curls. Shortly after I boldly stood to do an old-school dance, though, so did most of the crowd. We jammed the night away to our old-school faves, and when the show was over, the Apollo had a New Orleans-style second-line band—Harlem’s own, the Marching Cobras—lead us out into the streets, where we hopped on luxury shuttles in our gowns and tuxes to head to the after-party.

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If you know anything about the Apollo, you know they know how to throw a party and an after-party. They did not disappoint! DJ D Nice spun the party records we all wanted to hear under a huge tent decked out in lights, aerial ribbon dancers, food and Belvedere everywhere. There was no gift bag, but I didn’t need one. I just filled my purse with the tiny Magnolia banana puddings they offered us for dessert. Don’t judge me. Judge your mother.

Also, you better get on the list for the 2019 Apollo Spring Gala! You know I’ll be there ... filling my purse with banana pudding at the after-party. See you there!