LaTonya Richardson-Jackson, Leslie Uggams, Pauletta Washington also attended event

*How many of you have been to the historic Apollo Theater for an event and imagined what it would be like if you were on that great stage where stars were born and legends made?  Well scores of women can cross another thing off their bucket list as they finally made it to the great stage and was not booed off by an “Amateur Night” audience or swept off by the legendary “Sandman.”

These special ladies were attendees at the First Annual Dining with the Divas luncheon that took place on Valentine’s Day, Monday, February 14, 2011, in the actual theater – onstage and in the spacious part of the orchestra.  Interior designer David Monn LLC – with the creative eye of Apollo board member Yolanda Ferrell-Brown – turned those plum areas into an elegant sea of flaming red décor – tablecloths, votive candles, red seats and exotic floral arrangements.

Then as the joyful Abyssinian Baptist Women’s Choir sang the gospel truth, resplendently dressed women – mostly in red hot power suits – took their seats at beautifully arranged tables replete with miniature boxes of delicious Jacques Torres Chocolates and expensive La Caravelle champagne and Georges Duboeuf wines.

Dining with the Divas ambiance

It was a task getting these social butterflies to sit down as they flitted from table to table to network.  Once seated they were warmly welcomed by Jonelle Procope, president & CEO, Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc., to the iconic theater’s celebration of extraordinary women.  She then introduced the Diva co-hosts, Diva host committee and Diva committee members made up of some of the most powerful women in the political, corporate, entertainment, financial and media arenas.

ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts and Leslie Uggams, board member, Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc., regaled the ladies about the Apollo’s rich history; while Diva co-hosts Marcia Gay Harden and Mira Nair gracefully summed up the essence of the event that benefitted the Apollo’s year round education programs and community activities.  The Apollo Theater Education Program extends the Apollo’s commitment to enhancing the life of the community.

Guests enjoyed an indescribably delicious lunch catered by Great Performances.  The heavenly menu consisted of butlered hors d’oeuvres, selected egg and cheese popover with crumbled bacon, petit Maryland crab cakes, Chesapeake remoulade, corn profiterole and BBQ pulled pork carrot and bourbon slaw, and vegetarian spring rolls with scallion soy dipping sauce followed by an appetizer of salad of baby arugula, black mission figs, crumbled egg farm dairy goat cheese, and port wine vinaigrette.

Alicia Riley Bythewood, Yolanda Ferrell-Brown, Jonelle Procope, Joannie Danielides, Rita Jammet, Claudette Blackwood, Debra Shriver

The Dee-vine Divas had their choice of entrees: herb seared French chicken breast with roasted vegetable couscous and crispy asparagus or for the vegetarians — torta panzanella roasted smoked and marinated vegetables on herbed polenta diamond, drizzled balsamic glaze and basil oil.  And for this group of powerful ladies who had to get back to their respective offices but did not want to skip dessert — dessert to go — Apollo “heart shaped” Diva Cookies in a box.  Now, how clever was that!

After lunch an Apollo Theater Academy student selected the door prize-winning name, Harriette Mandeville, of designer Nicole Miller‘s dazzling dress purse.  As the impressive lunch came to a close, Procope did not have to twist arms to get luminaries to leave the comfort of their tablemates and continue to mix and mingle.  What a powerful chat fest!

A daunting event such as this takes hundreds to pull off and make look effortless and this event was no exception.  The Apollo Angeles included Diva co-hosts: Marcia Gay Harden, Mira Nair, Deborah Roberts, Leslie Uggams, Veronica Webb and Lynn Whitfield; Diva host committee:  Claudette Blackwood, Alicia Riley Bythewood, Joannie Danielides, Yolanda Ferrell-Brown, Judith Harrison, Rita Jammet, Jacqueline Nickelberry, Esq., Jonelle Procope and Debra Shriver.

Lastly, the pristine Diva committee members list composed of a veritable who’s who of influential ladies whose motto could easily be “The meek shall inherit the earth.  The powerful will own it!”  The likes of Crystal McCrary Anthony, Sadie Baderinwa, Renee T. Billy, Judith Byrd, Debra Martin Chase, Dale Mason Cochran, Jerri DeVard, Annmarie DiMasi, Paulette Goto, Marie Hallas, Joyce K. Haupt, Trica Jean-Baptiste, Hope Knight, Tonya Lewis Lee, Jeanine D. Liburd, Joanne Lipman, Susan Magrino, Gerri Warren Merrick, Harriet Michel, Joyce Mullins-Jackson, Rachel Noerdlinger, Jessica Pliska, Lisa Price, Denise L. Quarles, Erica Reid, Laurie Robinson, Patricia A. Sampson, Marva Smalls, Christine Taylor, Tawana Tibbs, Dana Tyler and Angela Vallot.

Procope also acknowledged and thanked the event’s generous sponsors: MTV Networks, Estee Lauder Companies, GE, Rubenstein, Corporate Counsel Women of Color; as well as those who provided products including Great Performances, Bernardaud, La Caravelle Champagne, Estee Lauder Companies, Georges Duboeuf, Jacques Torres Chocolate, Hearst Corporation (print design) and Patane Press Inc. (printing).  Finally, she thanked her Apollo staff who worked tirelessly in presenting this premiere event.  And as Dining with the Divas guests left the iconic venue, they took with them a grab bag filled with memorable goodies.  (Photos by Shahar Azran)

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