British singer Estelle performs with Jamie Foxx

*Once again, the highly anticipated Apollo 2010 spring gala was the cat’s meow!  Over 1,000 partygoers whet their whiskers at the purrfect affair held on Monday, June 14, 2010 on the historic Apollo Theater stage hosted by comedian and actor Jamie Foxx.

The gala celebration attracted the best and brightest in business and entertainment to raise funds in support of the non-profit theater’s remarkable legacy and its current initiatives for emerging artists and community and educational programs in New York City and beyond.

Chuck Jackson, Aretha Jackson

The celebrity-studded benefit was dedicated to the memory of Percy Ellis Sutton and featured a live concert, awards ceremony and fabulous after party.  In another memorable moment, actress Angela Bassett paid a glowing tribute to the dearly departed Lena Horne, another Apollo Legend.

Themed “An Evening of Legends,” the stellar program kicked off with warm welcoming remarks from Jonelle Procope, president and CEO, Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc.  “We are ecstatic to present our fifth Apollo Theater Spring Benefit, which will unite top business leaders, world-renowned entertainers and the Harlem community to celebrate the Apollo’s legacy and support our future.  The artists we’re honoring tonight are irrefutable proof of the Apollo’s continuing power as a transformative cultural force in America and around the world,” she stated.

Marsha Ambrosius, Stephen Hill, Jilissa and Malik Yoba

“Many people don’t realize that the Apollo is a non profit organization, and this Gala allows us to continue the Apollo’s mission of presenting and developing talent; providing a platform for the surrounding community and as an educational resource.  This is about our history — it is about our future and it is what the Apollo does best,” Procope, who wowed the audience in a green evening gown, concluded to thunderous applause.

The Theater’s annual corporate award recognizing superior corporate leadership was presented to JPMorgan Chase & Co. for its ongoing commitment to the Apollo and the greater Harlem community.  The prestigious award was accepted by Kimberly B. Davis, president, JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

Leslie Uggams, Kathy Hughes, Angela Bassette, Marvet Britto

Then students from the Apollo Theater Academy Saturday Workshop series and summer internship program introduced the Apollo Amateur Night winner Clark King to the resplendent audience.

The Ruby Dee & Ossie Davis Arts and Humanitarian Award was presented to Jennifer Lopez & Marc Anthony.  Named after the late Ossie Davis and his wife, Ruby Dee, the award is given annually to a couple who embody the powerful beliefs of this unique pair: a rarified command of their craft, a deep commitment to their community, and an unshakeable connection to each other and their family.

Star Jones, Chris Tucker, Gayle King with daughter Kirby Bumpus

During the superb program Foxx and Danny Glover inducted singer Aretha Franklin into the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame.  Franklin was so elated over the award that she broke into an impromptu performance of her funky hit song “Rock Steady” while the glitzy crowd rocked on in their seats.

The late, great King of Pop, Michael Jackson, was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame and his friend, comedian/actor Chris Tucker accepted the honor for him on behalf of the Jackson Family.  Tucker reduced the beautiful people to tears in his humorous but heartfelt tribute to his dearly beloved friend.  “Michael Jackson revolutionized popular music and the impact of his music is to this day felt all over the world.”

The tribute concert under the musical direction of Ray Chew featured spectacular performances by Foxx, Leslie Uggams, Estelle, Sharon Jones, Marsha Ambrosius and Donnie McClurkin.

Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony

Quincy Jones and Ronald O. Perelman served as the evening’s honorary co-chairs; and Alicia Riley Bythewood and Yolanda Ferrell–Brown served as benefit committee co-chairs.  The distinguished benefit committee consisted of Tory Burch, Angela Bassett & Courtney B. Vance, Camille & Bill Cosby, Pamela Fiori, Tonya Lewis Lee & Spike Lee, Marcia Gay Harden, Patrick O’Connell, Smokey Robinson, Kyra Sedgwick & Kevin Bacon, Debra Shriver and Pauletta & Denzel Washington.

The show was produced by Ron Weisner of Ron Weisner Entertainment.  The post party in the stately tented Apollo Supper Club was the joint and this joint was jumpin’ thanks to the hot disco sounds spun by the inimitable DJ D-Nice.  Adding to the luster of the ambience were the clever designs created by David Monn where the posh noshed delectable gourmet treats prepared by Great Performances.

Chris Tucker, Jonelle Procope, Richard Parsons

This year’s benefit sponsors included lead sponsor JPMorgan Chase & Co. and a host of high profile patrons including MacAndrews & Forbes, American Airlines, Belvedere (Believe) Vodka, Bloomberg, Moet & Chandon, Target, TV One, Time Warner Inc., Hearst Corporation, Black Entertainment Television, Hennessy and Moët & Chandon.

Audrey Bernard

Richard Parsons, chairman of the Apollo’s board of directors said, “The Apollo Theater shares a unique relationship with everyone who walks through its doors — from the generations of stars whose careers were launched on our stage to our world-famous, international audience to the thousands in Harlem who are served by our programs.  With the support of businesses combined with commitments from civic-minded individuals, this milestone event will go far in helping to guarantee the future of the Apollo and its programs.”

This event is the Apollo’s largest annual fundraiser and all proceeds of the event will benefit the Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc., a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, dedicated to preserving and developing the Apollo Theater and its initiatives for performing artists, educational programs, and community outreach efforts in New York City and beyond. (Photos by Ronnie Wright)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.