FROM THE PRESIDENT & CEO
It’s been an extraordinary month at the Apollo, from the incredible performances and tributes at the recent Apollo Resounding benefit to the induction of the incomparable Mary J. Blige into the Apollo’s Walk of Fame. I am also delighted to let you know that MacKenzie Scott made a generous donation to the Apollo. Her gift comes at a critical time for the institution as the Apollo works to rebuild its schedule of live performances and education and community programs. And today, I have more exciting updates to share with you. In 2018, we announced that for the first time in nearly nine decades the Apollo was expanding its physical footprint, becoming the operator and manager for the cultural space located a few doors down within the Victoria Theater Redevelopment Project. After a pause due to the pandemic, I’m excited to announce that we will officially be opening the space, including two flexible theaters, one with 99 seats and the other with 199 seats, in March 2022.
This expansion allows us to provide 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. What’s more, Apollo’s Victoria Theater addresses the lack of cultural space uptown, providing greater access to professional-level theater venues for local artists, artist collectives, and small and mid-size Harlem and NYC-based arts organizations for the development and presentation of performance-based work and brings additional opportunities for audiences to engage with and visit Upper Manhattan, further driving economic investment in the Harlem community.
When the Apollo first began its journey to the Victoria with the Empire State Development (ESD) team in 2012, we never would have imagined that a pandemic would create so much uncertainty about the future for non-profit arts organizations nationwide. After being selected through a Request for Proposals process by ESD to oversee the cultural spaces, we took on responsibility for managing the design and construction of the theaters, including raising the capital to not only build the Victoria but also run it. Concurrently, we’ve been developing a number of programs to address local non-profits’ needs for space uptown to create and perform artistic work and community-centered initiatives.
Beginning in November, the Apollo will offer eligible, mission-aligned, non-profit arts and cultural organizations the opportunity to apply for Culture Forward, Apollo’s brand-new subsidy program that will significantly reduce the cost of using the theaters. The Apollo will offer selected organizations professional, high-quality technical equipment and the essential staff needed for events at the Victoria, all-inclusive, at substantially reduced rates for both performances and rehearsals. Additional details on the Culture Forward application process will be announced in the fall. This exciting project continues to evolve, and the Apollo is also in conversation with other local non-profit arts organizations about longer-term commitments to ensure the Victoria has year-round programming, part of the original mandate for the space by ESD.
Looking forward, the Apollo’s Victoria Theater will officially open in March with a special three-concert presentation of Dreaming Zenzile, a modern jazz theater-piece based on the extraordinary life of the late South African singer and political activist Miriam Makeba. Grammy-nominated vocalist and songwriter Somi Kakoma created and will perform the work, which is presented in association with National Black Theatre.
The Apollo has always valued your thoughts, please send your feedback to email@example.com. In the meantime, I very much hope you will join us on the Apollo’s Digital Stage in the months ahead, and I look forward to sharing more about our upcoming fall season and the additional celebrations we are planning for the Victoria Theater soon.
The Apollo has never been just a theater. We are the embodiment of an ideal, a mission, and a spirit that is more expansive than can be held in our building. With that in mind, I hope you will join us on Monday, June 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET as we celebrate this spirit with Apollo Resounding, our virtual spring benefit taking place on the Apollo Digital Stage. The benefit will amplify the Apollo’s commitment to the needs of our community and the resounding calls for justice, equity, and humanity.
In addition to world-class performances from some of the Apollo’s most beloved artists, the evening will honor Felicia and Ben Horowitz, recipients of the inaugural Impact Award for their philanthropic leadership; and our good friend, producer and DJ, Derrick “D-Nice” Jones, who will receive the Percy E. Sutton Award in recognition of his work championing the value of the arts and philanthropy as a crucial part of the fabric of our community. The evening will also feature tributes to Motown Records Chairwoman and CEO Ethiopia Habtemariam; activist and educator Brittany Packnett Cunningham; and President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Sherrilyn Ifill. I can’t wait for you to see what we have in store.
Last week, we were thrilled to induct nine-time Grammy Award-winning and two-time Academy Award nominee Mary J. Blige into the Apollo’s historic Walk of Fame, and in case you missed it, highlights of the day will be featured in Apollo Resounding. We were delighted to once again honor an artist who not only has a deep relationship with the Apollo, but also has an immense impact on American music and popular culture.
Funds raised by Apollo Resounding will support our innovative artistic and educational programming, with a portion set aside to give back to independent businesses and non-profit organizations in Harlem that were heavily impacted by COVID-19. For more details on this initiative established in partnership with 125th Street BID and Harlem Commonwealth Council, please visit here.
On June 4, in celebration of Black Music Month, the Apollo’s Kamilah Forbes will be participating in a live virtual discussion about the Emmy Award-winning HBO documentary, The Apollo. She’ll be joined by interim CEO of Def Jam Records Jeff Harleston and producer Lisa Cortés to discuss the Apollo’s unique history and its continued cultural relevance. The film will also be available to stream on demand from June 2 through June 9, and you can RSVP for free here.
The Apollo is rising, but we haven’t left our roots. As we physically welcome our community home this fall with a limited number of in-person performances, and continue our popular programming on the Apollo Digital Stage, we are expanding our presence in Harlem with the Apollo’s new theaters at the Victoria. Scheduled to open in early 2022, we will be able to offer exciting resources for our audiences, our artists and our community in the months ahead.
I’d like to especially thank the many generous donors who have sustained us over the past year. The Apollo, and arts organizations around the country, continue to need your support. For those who are able, we hope you’ll consider supporting the Apollo’s upcoming season and future by making a donation here.
As we welcome spring, I cannot help but reflect on the past 12 months. It has been a challenging year, but it is also one that has given me hope. I hope that our community will continue to work together to ensure that our families and neighbors remain healthy, and hope that we will safely welcome our community physically into our Theater later this year.
While we are eager to return in-person, I am bolstered by the fact that since March 2020, the Apollo has provided audiences across the globe with many exciting ways to come together. Since launching the Apollo Digital Stage last year, we’ve welcomed more than 420,000 online viewers. From a performance by Wyclef Jean to the celebration of 30 Years of House Party, and a special Verzuz evening with Amateur Night alum and R&B superstar D’Angelo to the bi-annual WOW (Women of the World) Festival, the Digital Stage has been busy. In case you missed any of it, you can check out many of the programs here. On-demand access to WOW, featuring more than 80 thought leaders, scholars, and artists, is also available through April 20. I hope you’ll take a moment to be inspired.
Our Education team is also hard at work, offering events for students, families, and audiences of all ages, including a career panel exploring the impact of the fashion industry behemoth: the sneaker. And I’m thrilled that the Apollo Theater’s virtual internship program for high school students returns this summer. It gives teens an opportunity to explore technical theater production. If you are or have a teen who might be interested, you can learn more here. We hope you will also join us for the many exciting events ahead.
Please be sure to mark your calendars for the Apollo’s spring benefit on Monday, June 7. We’ll come together to celebrate Black Music Month, our artists and our audiences. We’ll share more details in the weeks ahead.
The Apollo’s transformative programming would not be possible without our Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes. Please join me in congratulating Kamilah on her NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Direction for HBO’s Between the World and Me. As you know, Kamilah developed and directed the stage adaptation for the Apollo, which was performed across the country. We’re so proud she was recognized for her brilliant work. And you may have caught the Apollo’s resident historian, Mr. Billy Mitchell, on the Grammy Awards last month when he shared how he got his start at the Apollo Theater. In case you missed it, or his presentation of Rap Song of the Year to Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé, we hope you’ll read more here.
As the Apollo looks forward to reopening, we want to thank the many generous donors who have sustained us this year. The Apollo, and arts organizations around the country, continue to need your support. For those who are able, we hope you’ll consider supporting the Apollo Theater’s upcoming season and future, by making a donation here.
I’m delighted to share that in October, the Apollo Theater Board of Trustees unanimously elected Charles Phillips as our new Chairman of the Board. As you may know, Charles is not new to the Apollo. Since 2015, he has served on the Board, most recently as Vice Chairman, and has provided astute advice, counsel and oversight to me and the leadership team over the years. Charles is a well-known leader across a number of sectors—he is currently Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Recognize, the former CEO and Chairman of Infor, and board member of ViacomCBS and American Express—and his background and expertise will be invaluable in guiding the Apollo Theater during this critical time. He also has a deep love of music and an interest in emerging artists that aligns with the Apollo’s mission to provide a home for Black artists and Black culture. Reaffirming his deep connection and immense commitment to our Theater, Charles marked his new role with a generous $1 million gift to the Apollo Theater’s Emergency Fund, which was created to ensure the Theater’s continued financial stability.
Last spring, Charles’ support, coupled with donations from many generous donors, enabled the Theater to meet our $4 million emergency fund goal, allowing us to create dynamic, free events and education programs on the Apollo Digital Stage and ensuring that we continue to serve our community. We couldn’t be more grateful for the myriad efforts Charles has made to help our Theater thrive, both now and for generations to come.
Charles succeeds longtime Chairman of the Board Richard “Dick” Parsons, an outspoken advocate for artistic excellence, and a dear friend and colleague. Having led the Apollo Theater Board since 2002, Dick anchored the turnaround of the Theater and set the institution on the path to success by preserving our cultural landmark as a place for artistic innovation and unforgettable programming. It is under his guidance that the Apollo is expanding its footprint to include two new theaters at the Victoria Theater, and I am incredibly grateful to him for his leadership and dedication to the Apollo for nearly 20 years. That said, this is not a goodbye; Dick has been elected Chairman Emeritus and will remain on the Executive Committee while continuing to champion our mission and programming, educational, and community initiatives.
I hope you will join me in celebrating Charles’ new role and his immense generosity, and commending Dick for his immeasurable and ongoing support. The Apollo Theater is renowned for its dynamic artists, from Ella Fitzgerald and Luther Vandross to Lauryn Hill and performances such as Between the World and Me and the events currently on our Digital Stage. It’s a tribute to Dick, Charles, and our innovative Board of Trustees that the Apollo can amplify and celebrate these voices while nurturing the artists of our future. If you would like to be a part of the Apollo’s future, please considering making a donation here.
Best wishes for safe and joyous holiday season,
I am thrilled to share that, last week, the 2019 HBO documentary The Apollo received the Emmy Award for “Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special.” It is an honor to receive this recognition, as the film tells the singular history of our theater, our community, and the important role that art and Black artists play in American culture.
Autumn has officially arrived, and the Apollo’s fall programming is in full swing. Thank you to the 20,000 viewers who tuned in earlier this month for Wyclef Jean’s return to the Apollo’s mainstage for the live performance of his groundbreaking album, The Carnival. For those who missed it, you can still view the concert on the Apollo’s Digital Stage, as well as our recent conversation with Grammy Award Winner John Legend and scholar, writer, and activist Salamishah Tillet. Inspired by their mutual role model, Nina Simone, and her belief that it is the artist’s responsibility to reflect and respond to contemporary issues, Legend and Tillet came together for a timely discussion about art, social justice, and what Legend believes the role artists can and should play at this critical moment in our history.
Speaking of our responsibilities to make our voices heard during this crucial time, for those who have not yet filled out the 2020 Census, I encourage you to do so. You have until September 30 and it takes less than 10 minutes to fill it out. The Census will make a crucial difference in shaping the future of our communities and the amount of federal funding they receive over the next 10 years.
Last, but most importantly, we are only 43 days away from the 2020 election. Please make sure you are registered to vote. Early voting begins in New York State on October 24 and extends to November 1. Election day is on November 3. So please make a plan to vote in person or, if you are using an absentee ballot, mail in your ballot. Your voice matters!
With your support, we will continue to be a home for artists, a home for you, and for generations to come. If you are in the position to make a gift to support the Apollo’s programs, please consider doing so by clicking here.
Thank you, and be well,
As many of you know, the Apollo Theater doesn’t slow down for the summer, and we’ve been hard at work putting together an exciting line-up of virtual programming to keep you connected to our world-famous stage. On Wednesday, we celebrated HARLEM WEEK 2020 with an online dance party featuring Apollo Music Café regular DJ Hard Hittin’ Harry, followed by the very first chance to hear from two Apollo New Works artists: Ebony Noelle Golden and Kamau Ware. The artists joined Apollo Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes to discuss what they’re creating for our first multi-work commissioning initiative, and the significance of the Apollo’s ongoing support and amplification of Black voices. In case you missed it, you can watch a recording of the conversation on the Apollo Digital Stage.
The Apollo is committed to developing the next generation of diverse arts leaders, and our arts education team is on the front lines ensuring that we provide the skills and support to make it happen. Earlier this summer, the education department pivoted their six-week summer internship program to take place completely online, culminating on August 11 with the Apollo’s Teen Takeover. It was so inspirational to watch these students using their powerful voices to share their visions for a more equitable future. You can watch their production, entitled “Dear Future…”, here. The fall internship program will also be virtual, and I encourage you or those with teens at home to visit the Apollo’s website for more information on how to participate.
Earlier this week, we shared news about some exciting fall Apollo programming, kicking off with a very special performance by Wyclef Jean of his Double Platinum album The Carnival, presented in partnership with ADCOLOR. The free concert will be streaming live from the Apollo’s Main Stage (with minimal crew and no physical audience). Wyclef will bring the energy and Apollo sound back to our Theater for the first time since we closed our doors in March. I hope you’ll tune in to the Apollo Digital Stage on Wednesday, September 9 at 8:00pm ET for what is sure to be an extraordinary night. To check out the rest of our virtual fall season line-up, I encourage to you visit our website here.
Also tremendously exciting, the 2019 HBO documentary The Apollo has been nominated for “Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special” at this year’s Emmy Awards, which air on September 20. The nomination is a testament to our community and the stories we’ve been fortunate to share over the past eight decades. That said, there are many more stories about the Black experience that need to be told, especially regarding violence against Black and Brown communities in America. To continue the conversations that we started at the Apollo in 2018 with the world premiere staged adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, HBO will be adapting the production for the small screen, once again directed by our very own Kamilah Forbes and premiering this fall (more here).
I would also like to thank the NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund for their generous support of the Apollo Theater. As effects of the pandemic continue to challenge our Theater, we’re grateful that we’re able to continue our mission-driven work and support our staff and our community.
This year is unlike any other we’ve faced, and we rely on our incredible community of supporters to continue our mission. As August is Black Philanthropy Month, we’re teaming up with the Young, Black & Giving Back Institute for the “Give 8/28” campaign, which raises financial support for black-led non-profits around the country on one of the most historic days for Black culture. It’s the day Emmett Till was brutally murdered, the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his indelible “I Have a Dream” speech, the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, and the day President Obama accepted the Democratic nomination in 2008—signifying both the highs and lows of the Black-American narrative. “Give 8/28” takes place on August 28, 2020, but I hope you will consider donating to the Apollo today. If you would like to be a part of the Apollo’s future, please considering making a donation here.
Finally, we are just 74 days from one of the most important elections in our lives. Please make sure you are registered to vote, because your voice matters.
President & CEO
It goes without saying that we are in unprecedented times. And yet, it is also important to recognize that this is not new - as a nation, as a community and as a theater that supports the work of artists who have too often been oppressed, silenced, and ignored.
As is all too often the case, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately ravaged Black and Brown communities and created immense personal and financial hardship for many across the country. In addition to our fight for survival, numerous small, Black-owned businesses are struggling, while simultaneously dealing with health challenges or the loss of loved ones due to this virus. There is no minimizing the pain being felt by so many.
And then another virus, one which has plagued our country for 400-years, has burst onto our screens and into the media through the murder of George Floyd: eight minutes and forty-six seconds of horror. In the aftermath of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others, thousands across the country - people of all races and ethnicities are marching and raising their voices to demand justice. It is my hope that we can channel our anger and rage into constructive change. We must finally create a new narrative that addresses our nation’s history of racism.
And so, the question remains: how can we, the Apollo Theater, help to safeguard our democracy, our freedom, and our humanity?
The Apollo will do what we have always done. Our history is rooted in the fight for human dignity and racial equality and mirrors the history of our community. For more than 86 years, the Apollo has been a home--at times the only home--for Black artists and activists. For more than eight decades, we have amplified the movements and conversations around civil rights, social justice and racial inequality. Even with our physical doors closed, we won’t stop now.
At the Apollo we have rallied around the power of art and culture to transform, connect and heal.
Because, whether we stay home and quarantine, take to the streets in peaceful protest, or fight for justice and equality in other ways, we always need to remember that we are in this TOGETHER. And until we can come together to recognize racism as the pandemic that it is and create lasting change, the story will remain the same.
One way we can begin to change the narrative is to vote like your life depends on it, because it does!
President & CEO
Thank you to everyone who joined us for “Let’s Stay (In This) Together: A Benefit to Support the Apollo Theater.” The Apollo has always been a place for the community to convene in moments of celebration and during our darkest times. We remain committed to providing a platform for artists and audiences to express themselves by using the arts to advocate for the safety, dignity, and justice for Black people worldwide. It was inspiring to me to have thousands of people from around the world come together online to support the Theater and the Harlem community. I also want to thank the artists who shared their performances and words, Gibson—our lead supporter, and the generosity of viewers who donated. The gifts from those of you who donated to the Apollo during the event will provide critical funding to safeguard our institution and support our innovative artistic and educational programs that serve more than 200,000 people annually. While there is still much work to be done, your help has been essential. Thank you!
We are proud to call Harlem our home, with its rich and distinctive culture, and we are grateful to our Harlem community for its unwavering support of the Apollo. To that end, we have set aside a portion of the funds raised on June 4 to give back to local, independent businesses and non-profit organizations in the neighborhood through the Harlem Entrepreneurial Micro-Grant Initiative. This initiative will provide micro-grants to small businesses that help to define the culture and vitality of our community. We are grateful to our partners at Harlem’s 125th Street Business Improvement District and the Harlem Commonwealth Council for joining us in this project. The deadline for applications is Thursday, June 25, so there are just a few more days to apply. To learn more and to apply, please click here.
I hope that throughout June, you were able to visit our Digital Stage as we celebrated Black Music Month. On our Digital Stage, you will find our recent conversation with DJ D-Nice, never-before-seen archival footage of Stevie Wonder, and resources and performances for those seeking to engage in conversations and activities around race and injustice. We will continue to add virtual performances and more that showcase the vibrant sounds of the Apollo for you and your family and friends to enjoy all summer long.
For more than eight decades, the Apollo’s strength and resiliency have been as constant as the talent on our stages. As we approach the end of the fiscal year, the need for financial support has become crucial, and we are reaching out to donors and friends of the Theater to help us reach our goal to raise $4 million. The outpouring of support is truly meaningful and has brought us much closer to reaching this goal, but if you are in the position to make a gift to the Apollo, please consider doing so now by clicking here.
Thank you, and be well,