Apollo Club Harlem Rekindles Magical Era
Kudos to Apollo for mixing it up! I have a new found respect for them. Big band music is what helped make Apollo as famous as it is today, along with their reputation for being the premier stage for Black stars to be born.
My notes. My notes are gone! I scribbled sloppy pencil notes in the dim theater that night so that I could write this article as if I was staying in the moment, and so you all could feel like you were actually there.
A kind of play-by-play of Apollo Club Harlem, unique 30's and 40's style review at none other than Apollo Theater. But that's just the thing, the moment that this show brought you to was sooo back in time, not the present moment at all.
I don't know what it was about Harlem in the 30's and 40's, but it was a magical and romantic era. Maybe it was the clothes, the hats, the wing-tipped shoes.
Maybe it was the pimps and prostitutes and how they didn't look less classy than most girls in Hip-Hop videos today-- and I'm not "slut-shaming," or critcizing Hip Hop. I don't believe in the existence of "sluts," and criticizing Hip Hop is for another article, or maybe even another writer.
Maybe it was the drugs that allowed one to escape the reality that was poverty for many during that time. Opium? Heroine?. Or maybe it was the music. The dreams that lived in that music, that maybe some star creator might whisk you off to Hollywood and you'd become the next Lena Horne.
I find many past eras to be special and I feel I lived in several of them. I felt at home in that audience, watching the big band play songs that were all too familiar to me, while Josephine-esque dancers swished their hips in banana skirts and a 70 year old tap phenom and host Maurice Hines changed into several outfits and werked them all, and from that upper mezzanine I saw little round tables held little dressed up people who came to see some big talent in a big theater named Apollo.
My favorite acts --oooh I feel so quaint calling them acts rather than artists! I wonder when that shift started-- were the company of slender pretty-faced all-shades-of-brown dancers, the Apollo Theater's Gorgeous Hot Steppers, and the young singer who reminded me of Sarah Vaughan, Cecile McLorin Salvant.
She was full of grace in her movements and perfectly slid notes. I think Dee Dee Bridgewater, diva extraordinaire in her own right, was a little jealous at how little she had to do, how only subtle her performance had to be, to be brilliant. They were almost a good match.
They were definitely more like opposites than compliments on their medley of duets, which included songs like "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" and "It Don't Mean A Thing." But I preferred Cecile because sometimes less is just a little bit more. My guest that night said, when I mentioned just how much more flashy Dee Dee was than Cecile, "Well she's a diva, and that's what divas do." Snaps to that! Much respect to Bridgewater.
I've used some slang in this article that I believe emerged from the community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It's fitting because I love that there was a man, Ramon Flowers, center stage of the Apollo Theater's Gorgeous Hot Steppers!
It was something that you couldn't quite notice unless you looked closely but he embodied a kind of transient feminine quality that seems to be becoming more prevalent today among men and women. I'd like to think the lines are being blurred when it comes to gender. I'd love to believe we are moving away from polarities and extremes so that people may relax their ideas about what is acceptable in terms of people's personal choices about how they express and present themselves.
Kudos to Apollo for mixing it up! I have a new found respect for them. Storyboard P, another amazing male dancer, was reminiscent of Earl "Snake Hips" Tucker and floated across the stage, defying physics and gravity, similar to how Apollo seems to be defying challenging societal norms by putting an androgynous man in a group of beautiful female dancers.
The backbone of the show was the Apollo Club Harlem Orchestra and they played hard, strong, and long. Big band music is what helped make Apollo as famous as it is today, along with their reputation for being the premier stage for Black stars to be born.
The Apollo is always an enchanting place to be because of the history that has transpired there. From the moment you're greeted by one suave talking ushers in a tux who treat you like you are royalty, you'll know that you truly have stepped into another era.
Apollo Club Harlem is your portal to the magic of the times. While the show is no longer running, by popular demand I'm sure it will be back. Just tell the driver, "Drop Me Off in Harlem."
The event was from February 18 to 23.
Helese Smauldon, The Black Star News Music Columnist
Follow my blog: www.helesetalks.wordpress.com
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