16 April 2008
“Our Theater: The Hey Dey of the Apollo Theatre”
Apollo was the Greek God of music, Poetry and the arts. His temple was at Delphi and was known to be a place of purification. There is a temple of a different that bears the name of the Greek god and its at 253 West 125th Street Harlem in New York City. The Apollo Theater would become as famous as the temple at Delphi. The Apollo Theaters home was in Harlem. Harlem is known worldwide as a major African-American cultural and business neighborhood. It wasn’t always the Harlem we know today. Harlem didn’t become an African American neighborhood until the Great Migration. During the first decade of the 20th century, Growing unemployment and increasing racial violence encouraged blacks to leave the South. The way they came up north was by working for northern manufacturers who had recruited the southern black workers to fill factory jobs. So from 1910 to 1930 between 1.5 million and 2 million African Americans left the South for the industrial cities of the North. By 1930 more than 200,000 blacks had moved to New York. As black communities in Northern cities grew, black working people became the patrons for an expanding black professional and business class, gaining in political and economic power. As more and more educated and socially conscious blacks settled in New York’s neighborhood of Harlem, it developed into the political and cultural center of black America. During the 1910s a
new political agenda advocating racial equality arose in the African American community, particularly in its growing middle class. A black middle class had developed by the turn of the century, fostered by increased education and employment opportunities. There was something emerging in the midst of social and intellectual up rise in the African American community in the early 20th century. Harlem Renaissance was the name of the African American cultural movement of the 1920s and early 1930s that was centered in the Harlem. The Apollo Theater has been the most lasting legacy of the Harlem Renaissance. The Apollo grew to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance of the pre-World War II years. By the time the Apollo had open its doors the Harlem Renaissance was coming to a close.
The Apollo Theater that we know today didn’t start out that way. It began as a all white music hall and burlesque theatre. It gained fame a Hurtig and Seamon’s Burlesque in the twenties and early thirties. The 125th street Apollo Theater didn’t open until January 1934. This is when they started showcasing black entertainment. The Apollo theatre was originally owned by Sidney Cohen. After Sydney S. Cohen's death, Morris Sussman and Frank Schiffman got together. Schiffman ran the Harlem Opera House and a merger between the two theaters was formed. Schiffman is credited with guiding the Apollo Theater to greatness. Schiffman's motivation for featuring black talent and entertainment was not only because the neighborhood had become black over a two hundred year period of gradual migration, but because black entertainers were cheaper to hire, and Schiffman could offer quality shows for reasonable rates. For many years Apollo was the only theater in New York City to hire black talent.
With black performers as the main entertainment in the Apollo came an important facet of American life that has been dominated by blacks. That is jazz. In jazz the black man stands supreme. The products of his creative energies are sought after by musicians and listeners of every background. Jazz didn’t start in the Apollo theatre. It didn’t start in Harlem either. The roots of jazz lie deep in the history of New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago, and New York. The true ancestral roots are buried even deep in the music traditions of West Africa and Latin countries. But the Apollo was one of the places that provided a home and a...