On Monday, the Annual Apollo Spring Benefit was held in the historic theater filled with music performances, spotlighting Harlem’s heroes, and coming together to honor the legacy of the institution. The Benefit is held to raise funds for the improvement, upkeep, and future expansion of the Apollo.
The second benefit held in person since the Covid pandemic wouldn’t have started correctly without a dynamic Tina Turner tribute by singer Stout, who took everyone to church singing “Proud Mary”.
The band was led by the musical director of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars and Saturday Night Live, Ray Chew. Performances were also done by Wyclef Jean who got the whole audience up and dancing.
The audience also erupted in cheers as MC Lyte graced the stage! One of the biggest treats of the evening? The “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight stepped on stage in her black stilettos to perform “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” and the hit that made the theater rumble in excitement, “Midnight Train To Georgia”.
This year the Apollo honored Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, President and CEO Jonelle Procope, and Warby Parker for their efforts towards bettering the Harlem neighborhood, the home of the iconic theater.
As a widely known NBA fan, Brooklyn-raised Spike Lee had the honor of introducing NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to receive the Impact Award. Abdul-Jabbar is not only famous for his basketball career but also for providing opportunities for children to further their education at his Camp Skyhook, a summer program to prepare kids for possible futures in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) careers.
Although Diddy was not able to be present to accept the award, all of the graduating class from his Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School were in the audience, with three of the students on stage there to accept the award alongside the president of Comb Enterprises, Tarik Brooks. Diddy has used his platform to better his home of New York by opening charter schools and donating to HBCUs like Howard University and Jackson State University. The students announced on stage that 100% of the 2023 graduating class were accepted into college, proving that Diddy’s efforts are giving hope to his hometown.
Jonelle Procope has been the CEO and President of the Apollo for 20 years and is ending her tenure after two decades. Under Procope’s leadership, the Apollo has been reopened for performances consistently, keeping history alive in the midst of an ever-changing neighborhood. In a new project, the Victoria Theater that also sits on Harlem’s 125th Street will be renovated with two theaters inside, one will be named after Procopes.
The Apollo’s Impact
The Apollo Theater is a pillar in the heart of Harlem, being one of the most important institutions for Black arts and culture. From Ella Fitzgerald to Lauryn Hill and Drake, the venue has hosted some of the finest artists in the business for almost 90 years. This year’s benefit theme was rightful “The Next Movement”, as the theater plans on expanding and improving the structure in order to provide a safe space for Black artists to perform for years to come.