The Apollo Theater's neon marquee.
Courtesy HBO

Three Things to Catch at Harlem’s Apollo Theater This Fall

By Aileen Kwun
November 9, 2019
2 minute read

One commonality shared by Michael Jackson, B.B. King, Diana Ross, and James Brown: They all did their thing at the Apollo. “If the United States is the big circle, inside of that is New York. Inside of New York, of course, is New York City. Inside of New York City, of course, is Harlem. And inside of Harlem is the Apollo theater,” journalist Herb Boyd says in HBO’s The Apollo, a new documentary about the historic epicenter of black cultural production, community-making, and artistic expression of more than 85 years.

Directed by Roger Ross Williams, the film traces the theater’s rich history, beginning with its opening, in 1934, as one of the nation’s first nonsegregated theaters for African American performers and patrons. Home to swing, vaudeville, rock, and just about everything else, it quickly became a hotbed of talent in the jazz heyday, debuting Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ella Fitzgerald (whose legendary scatting was said to be the result of her forgetting her lyrics). The Apollo still plays host to a vibrant mix of musicians, poets, comedians, dancers, and performers these days, from Ta-Nehisi Coates to Dave Chappelle. A few highlights to catch this fall:

1. Head to the longstanding Amateur Night, a weekly open-mic variety show where booing is a tradition and the tagline is: “BE GOOD OR BE GONE.” Only the strong survive the notoriously unforgiving audience, and pressure creates diamonds, as they say. (Lauryn Hill was booed at age 13; the rest is history.) Wednesday evenings, 7:30 p.m., $24

2. Catch Cocktails & Cinema, the Apollo’s new quarterly series for black music and independent film. Clemency, the Sundance award–winning psychological thriller about a female prison warden, screens this month. Nov. 21, 6 p.m., $25

3. Be wowed by the National Double Dutch League as they hop it out for the glory at the 28th Double Dutch Holiday Classic, the annual tournament that transformed the schoolyard game into a competitive team sport. Dec. 3, 1 p.m., $22