Since opening its doors in 1914 and introducing the first Amateur Night contests in 1934, The Apollo has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues, and soul — all quintessentially American music genres. Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, and countless others began their road to stardom on the Apollo stage. Today, The Apollo is a respected nonprofit presenting concerts, theatrical and dance performances, film screenings, educational programs, and community outreach programs.

The neoclassical theater known today as The Apollo’s Historic Theater was designed by George Keister and first owned by Sidney Cohen. In 1914, Benjamin Hurtig and Harry Seamon obtained a thirty-year lease on the newly constructed theater, calling it Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater. Like many American theaters during this time, African-Americans were not allowed to attend as patrons or to perform.

In 1933, Fiorello La Guardia, who would later become New York City’s Mayor, began a campaign against burlesque, and Hurtig & Seamon’s was one of many theaters that would close down. Cohen reopened the building as the 125th Street Apollo Theatre in 1934 with his partner, Morris Sussman, serving as manager. Cohen and Sussman changed the format of the shows from burlesque to variety revues and redirected their marketing attention to the growing African-American community in Harlem.

Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher took over The Apollo in 1935. The Schiffman and Brecher families would operate the Theater until the late 1970s. The Apollo reopened briefly in 1978 under new management then closed again in November 1979. In 1981, it was purchased by Percy Sutton, a prominent lawyer, politician, media and technology executive, and a group of private investors. Under Sutton’s ownership, the Theater was equipped with a recording and television studio.

In 1983, The Apollo received state and city landmark status and in 1992, Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc., was established as a private, nonprofit organization to manage, fund, and oversee programming for The Apollo Theater. Today, The Apollo, which functions under the guidance of a Board of Directors, presents concerts, performing arts, education and community outreach programs. In 2024, The Apollo expanded its physical footprint, becoming the operator and manager for the cultural space located a few doors down within The Victoria Theater Redevelopment Project. The Apollo Stages at The Victoria provides vibrant, year-round artistic, educational, and community programs that build on the cultural heritage of Harlem and celebrate the enormous well of creativity found in our neighborhood.
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  • On January 26, 1934, the 125th Street Apollo Theater opens with the show “Jazz a la Carte” headlined by Benny Carter and his Orchestra, Ralph Cooper and Aida Ward.
  • The Apollo becomes the premiere showplace for live, theatrical entertainment in Harlem.
  • Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham, Jackie “Moms” Mabley and Dusty Fletcher are among the comedians who appear regularly on stage.
  • Tap dancers like the Nicholas Brothers, Berry Brothers, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Buck and Bubbles are the top dance acts.
  • Amateur Night winners include Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey.
  • In 1935, Bessie Smith’s four weeks at The Apollo are her sole live performances that year.
  • By 1937, The Apollo is the largest employer of Black theatrical workers in the US, according to Frank Schiffman, and the only theater in NYC hiring Black people in backstage positions.
  • Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, and the Count Basie Orchestra make their debut.
  • The Apollo Chorus Girls are considered to be the best line in NYC. In 2005, their story is recounted in the documentary “Been Rich All My Life.”

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  • Lionel Hampton’s 16-piece band appears at The Apollo. Hampton’s hit, “Flyin’ Home,” becomes an Apollo favorite.
  • Teddy Hale, Babe Laurence, and Bunny Briggs are the top dance attractions.
  • During World War II, The Apollo sets aside 35 tickets daily for soldiers. Tuesdays at the USO were “Apollo Night.”
  • Dinah Washington and Sammy Davis, Jr. make their first Apollo appearance.
  • Amateur Night winners during the 1940s include Sarah Vaughn and Ruth Brown.
  • Apollo comics stop using blackface makeup.

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  • The Johnny Otis Rhythm & Blues Caravan come to The Apollo featuring 13-year old Little Esther Phillips.
  • The week before Christmas 1951, Josephine Baker makes her Apollo debut.
  • “Mambo Shows” are a big Apollo attraction with stars like Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, and the Mambo Aces.
  • Comedy acts like “Harlem’s Son of Fun,” Nipsey Russell, Timmie Rogers & James “Stump” Cross, and Harold “Stumpy” Cromer are a major draw.
  • “The Detective Story,” with Sidney Poitier, is the first dramatic play to be shown on the stage.
  • In 1955, Thurman Ruth’s Gospel Caravan debuts at The Apollo featuring acts such as The Dixie Hummingbirds, Shirley Caesar, Alex Bradford, Clara Ward, and the Soul Stirrers.
  • Amateur Night contestants include the Esquires, Dionne Warwick, Joe Tex, and James Brown.
  • In 1955, Disc jockey Tommy “Dr. Jive” Smalls brings the idea of the Rhythm and Blues Revue to Apollo manager Bobby Schiffman. The shows feature as many as a dozen vocal acts on one bill.
  • “Showtime at The Apollo” is first broadcast in 1955, taped before a live studio audience. Performers include Sarah Vaughn, “Big” Joe Turner, Herb Jeffries, the Count Basie Orchestra, comedian Nipsey Russell, and the dancer Bill Bailey. Willie Bryant is the host.
  • Jazz greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Thelonius Monk appear at The Apollo.
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  • Nancy Wilson makes her Apollo debut. The Miracles, with Smokey Robinson, appear on Ray Charles’ show.
  • A Scepter Records show package includes the Shirelles, Chuck Jackson, Tommy Hunt, Maxine Brown, and the Isley Brothers.
  • Amateur Night winners include Gladys Knight, King Curtis, Ronnie Spector, Billy Stewart, Jimi Hendrix, and Charlie and Inez Foxx.
  • The Jewel Box Revue, “25 Men and 1 Girl”, is one of the most popular shows and features performances by people in drag.
  • Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Joe Tex, and especially Aretha Franklin, present the grittier side of soul at The Apollo.
  • James Brown records live shows at the Apollo in 1962.
  • The “Motortown” Revue debuts with the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Commodores, and “Little” Stevie Wonder.
  • “Blues Nights” features B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, T-Bone Walker, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Odetta.
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  • Aretha Franklin’s Apollo shows are major events. The Apollo marquee reads, “She’s Home.”
  • Stars of the Philadelphia International record label, including the Delfonics, the O'Jays, the Stylistics, the Spinners, the Three Degrees and Harold Melvin, and the Blue Notes, are presented.
  • John Lennon and Yoko Ono appear at a 1971 benefit concert for Attica.
  • B.B. King plays an early morning blues concert for Harlem schoolchildren.
  • By the mid-1970s, The Apollo is presenting only 22 weeks of shows per year as recordings eclipse live performances as an important source of income for artists.
  • Bobby Schiffman reluctantly closes The Apollo in January 1976.
  • The Theater briefly reopens in 1978 under new management with shows by Ralph McDonald, War, the T-Connection and Sister Sledge, James Brown, Bob Marley, and Parliament Funkadelic.
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  • In 1981, Percy Sutton’s Inner City Broadcasting Corporation and a group of private investors purchase The Apollo Theater. The Apollo receives state and city landmark status as Harlem’s oldest functioning theater in 1983.
  • On May 5th, 1985, The Apollo’s renovation is celebrated with a 50th Anniversary grand reopening and television special, “Motown Salutes The Apollo.” Amateur Night is re-launched on Christmas Eve that same year.
  • “Showtime at The Apollo” is revived and launched as a television show.
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  • The Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit organization, is established to manage, fund, and program The Apollo Theater.
  • The Artist Formerly Known as Prince plays The Apollo in an exclusive VH1 Concert.
  • The Apollo Theater Foundation launches its first performance series with a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Other performances follow including Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, Boys Choir of Harlem, and Betty Carter – Jazz Ahead ’95.
  • Tony Bennett plays a sold-out engagement honoring Billie Holiday.
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  • In 2002, George C. Wolfe’s new musical “Harlem Song” opens to enthusiastic reception.
  • The Apollo hosts its inaugural Spring Benefit Gala in 2005 with a special tribute to Ossie Davis.
  • The first phase of renovation is completed and includes the installation of over 1,500 house seats, restoration of the 125th-Street façade, a state-of-the-art marquee, new stage, and greenroom.
  • In 2006, Apollo legend James Brown lays in state on The Apollo stage. Tens of thousands of people gather to pay their respects.
  • Then-Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama hosts a campaign fundraiser at The Apollo in 2007.
  • Thousands of Michael Jackson fans flock to The Apollo Theater to pay tribute to the pop icon, celebrate his life, and mourn his death in 2009.
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Apollo Historic Tours

Take a tour of The Apollo and explore its legendary history. Tours are 60–75 minutes in length and offer guests exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the place “Where Stars are Born and Legends are Made!"
Historic highlights
1934 — Opening Of The 125th Street Apollo Theater
Jan 26, 1934
Billed as “One of the most important theater events in the history of Harlem” (The New York Amsterdam News), The Apollo had its gala opening on January 26, 1934. The entertainment that night was “Jazz A La Carte” with Ralph Cooper, Aida Ward, Bennie Carter and His Orchestra, and many other performers. The event was an historic start to The Apollo’s lasting legacy.
1962 — James Brown Records "Live At The Apollo"
Oct 15, 1962
1992 — The Apollo Becomes A Nonprofit
Dec 04, 1992
On December 4th, 1992, The Apollo Theatre Investor Group transferred the organizational status of The Apollo to the establishment of The Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc. as a nonprofit 501c-3 organization. This effort directly galvanized the organization's landmark status and current mandate as an "uptown" cultural and civic center.
2005 — The Apollo Hosts Its First Spring Benefit
Jun 20, 2005
On June 20, 2005, The Apollo hosted its inaugural Apollo Spring Benefit: The Magic Lives On. The Spring Benefit is an annual fundraiser that continues today as the institution's largest fundraiser in support of its year-round artistic, education, and community programs.
2017 — Bruno Mars Performs Atop The Apollo’s Marquee
Nov 29, 2017
Bruno Mars became the first artist to perform in concert on top of The Apollo’s iconic marquee. The historic performance was captured live and was also the first time an Apollo event shut down 125th Street.
2024 — The Apollo Physically Expands For The First Time
Feb 09, 2024
The Apollo launched the first physical expansion in its history with the opening of The Apollo Stages at The Victoria. Located just a few steps away from the Historic Theater, The Victoria expansion was a top-to-bottom renovation and restoration of the historic building which first opened in 1914. The expansion is an exciting part in the continued evolution of The Apollo.

WALK of Fame

Located under The Apollo’s famous marquee, The Apollo Walk of Fame celebrates and honors the legendary performers who have helped to expand its legacy. The Walk of Fame is a visual representation and a permanent testament to The Apollo’s significant impact in the development of Black music and continued influence on American popular culture into the 21st century.One of New York’s most visited tourist destinations, the Walk of Fame features bronze plaques with the names of Apollo Legends who have performed on the iconic stage and shaped the American musical landscape. Take a scroll through The Apollo’s Walk of Fame!
Jun 26
| 7:30PM EDT
Jun 26
Jun 26
Apollo's Historic Theater
Amateur Night at The Apollo: Grand Finale

This is the Amateur Night show you’ve been waiting for! Winners from the Semi-Finals return in this final competition for the title of Child Star of Tomorrow earning $5,000 while the Grand Finale winner receives $20,000. The talented performers return for one last chance to leave it all on the line with hopes of becoming the next Ella Fitzgerald, Luther Vandross, Lauryn Hill, H.E.R, Machine Gun Kelly or Jazmine Sullivan.Audiences have casted their vote to get them this far, but in the Grand Finale, you decide who will Be Good or Be Gone and win the triumphant grand prize. Don’t miss the final Amateur Night sponsored by Coca-Cola performance of the season hosted by the comedian Capone with a festive pre-party with DJ Jess and Set It Off Man Greginald Spencer.

Jun 29
| 8:00PM EDT
Jun 29
Jun 29
Apollo's Historic Theater
Smokey Robinson

Apollo Legend Smokey Robinson returns to The Apollo’s historic stage for the first time in almost 10 years for a night of soulful hits from his legendary discography including recent hits from his new album— GASMS. Provider of the soundtrack to our lives, GRAMMY® Living Legend — Smokey Robinson will give us a thrilling night to remember!

Aug 30
| 9:30PM EDT
Aug 30
Aug 30
Apollo's Historic Theater
Machel Montano

This Labor Day Weekend, The King of Soca, Machel Montano brings Carnival to Harlem! Bring your friends, family, and loved ones for the ultimate celebration of music, culture, and community.

From his chart-topping hits to his infectious energy, Machel Montano knows how to throw a party like no other. Join The Apollo for the hottest celebration of music, culture, and community with those you love this Labor Day weekend.

Share your Apollo moments on Instagram using the hashtag #ApolloMarquee.