History & Legacy


Ralph Cooper, an actor and producer, started the original Harlem Amateur Hour in April 1933 at Frank Schiffman’s Lafayette Theater.  In 1934, Cooper began the Wednesday Amateur Night at Sidney Cohen and Morris Sussman’s 125th Street Apollo Theatre. Cooper’s Amateur Night in Harlem radio shows were broadcast live from the Apollo over WMCA and carried on a national network of 21 stations. When Amateur Night at the Apollo debuted in 1934, it quickly became the leading showcase for many young, talented, new performers such as a 15-year-old Ella Fitzgerald, who went on to become one of the first Amateur Night winners.

Amateur Night at the Apollo celebrated its 85th Anniversary in 2019 as the quintessential talent competition, serving as the model for Star Search and American Idol. Competitions are held nearly every Wednesday evening throughout the year, culminating with the Grand Finale competition. The show marries world-class talent with a distinctive, vaudeville-like atmosphere, and has depended on audience participation since the very beginning. The popularity contest has proven an effective measure of star potential, becoming a launch pad for some of the nation's greatest entertainers.

The ultimate goal is to create a cadre of talented, well-trained and well-groomed performance professionals with an effective understanding of the entertainment industry. The showcase works to nurture aspiring performers in their artistic evolution as entertainers while creating access to professional performance and recording opportunities. Many Amateur Night performers have gone on to perform live opening acts at music concerts for professional artists like Nancy Wilson, George Clinton, Cameo. Others have performed on America's Got Talent, Good Day New York and other local and network television shows. The legendary venue has launched the careers of icons such as Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, James Brown and Lauryn Hill and continues to maintain its position as the nation's most popular arena for emerging and established African-American and Latino performers.

UPDATE: While live shows currently paused due to safety concerns related to COVID-19, you can catch rebroadcasts of some of our recent live Amateur Night shows here and find more content on the Apollo Digital Stage. Join the Apollo A-List for the latest updates.

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