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Apollo Theater board chairman Richard Parsons, Lionel Richie

*HARLEM, NY – Folks were “Dancing on The Ceiling” when Lionel Richie and Etta James were inducted into the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame at the Apollo Theater seventh annual spring gala benefit concert on Monday evening, June 4, 2012.  As a result, the inductees will be honored with a plaque in the Apollo Walk of Fame installed under the historic Theater’s iconic marquee on 125th Street.  The evening included the gala benefit concert and awards ceremony, produced by Ron Weisner for Ron Weisner Entertainment.

The celebrated singer-songwriter, musician and record producer Richie and blues, soul, jazz, R&B, and rock vocalist Etta James will join past Apollo Legends Hall of Fame inductees — all legendary musicians, artists, and entertainers whose paths to fame included the Apollo — Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Patti Labelle, Smokey Robinson, James Brown, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Little Richard, and Ella Fitzgerald.  Each Apollo Legends Hall of Fame inductee is honored with a plaque in the Apollo Walk of Fame, installed under the Theater’s iconic marquee on 125th Street.

The gala benefit concert and awards ceremony brings together the best and brightest in business and entertainment to raise funds in support of the non-profit theater’s remarkable legacy, its current initiatives for emerging artists, and community and educational programs that serve students and families in New York City and beyond.

The evening was hosted by celebrated comedian and former host of Showtime at the Apollo, Sinbad, with American Idol’s Ray Chew keeping things running smoothly as musical director.

It was a night in which touching tributes were paid to those gone too soon like Whitney Houston who was soulfully remembered by ten-time Grammy Award winner Chaka Khan performing “I’m Every Woman,” and Eddie Levert’s moving tribute celebrating the memory of  his “friend” and Soul Train creator Don Cornelius.

Apollo Legend Gladys Knight remembered Etta James as the late singer was inducted into the Theater’s Hall of Fame with a moving rendition of “At Last.”  and Valerie Simpson tenderly played a Baby Grand piano as she lovingly sang “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” in memory of her beloved husband Nick Ashford.

Richard D. Parsons, chairman, Apollo Theater, kept the beat going with remarks about the history of the great theater and drew thunderous applause when he reported that the event raised $1.2 million that will benefit the non-profit Theater’s arts, education and community engagement programs.  He then introduced Jonelle Procope, president & CEO, The Apollo Theater, who zealously thanked the audience for their continued support as well as the event’s generous sponsors.  Procope appreciatively introduced the gala committee co-chairs Yolanda Ferrell-Brown and Alicia Riley Bythewood who have been with her from the very beginning.

Then, it was Showtime at The Apollo.  Actor Danny Glover introduced Richie who was inducted by Revlon Chairman and Apollo board member Ronald Perelman.  Richie’s first Apollo appearance was in the early 1970s, with The Commodores, who were opening for Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. “The Apollo is such an important part of music history in this country, and my own personal history,” said Richie.  “When they called and said they were putting me on that list of names, I was thrilled.  It’s an honor to be a part of the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame.”

“Lionel Richie is one of our most accomplished artists and one of our nation’s most creative musical talents.  His artistic and philanthropic endeavors have inspired us for decades, and it will be a great honor to welcome him to the Apollo in June to induct him into our Apollo Legends Hall of Fame,” said Procope. “We are also privileged to have the opportunity to celebrate and remember the great Etta James, a true American musical icon.”

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Lionel Richie, Apollo Theater president & CEO Jonelle Procope, Citi CEOVikram Pandit

Additionally, each year at the spring gala benefit, the Apollo recognizes a corporation whose support enables the Theater to grow and expand its artistic, community, and education programs. Procope presented Citi with its 2012 corporate award, in recognition of its outstanding philanthropy and community leadership.  The award was accepted by Citi CEO Vikram Pandit.  “Citi is proud to be a long-time supporter of the Apollo Theater,” said Pandit.  “The Apollo is world-renowned for discovering great talent and its education programs are second to none.”

Other musical tributes were made by Mary Mary, Donnie McClurkin and The Tuskegee Choir and Amateur Night Star of Tomorrow Michael Woodard.  An electrifying performance by Richie of some of his signature songs raised the roof.  Pumped up guests pranced into Club Apollo for the after-party featuring a stylish lounge transformed and created by celebrity event planner Marc Wilson where they danced “All Night Long” to pulsating club music spun by DJ D-Nice.

Lionel Richie is a multi-award winning superstar whose musical legacy spans more than three decades.  His long association with the Apollo began in the 1970s when he performed at the Theater as part of The Commodores.  Richie has created an unforgettable body of work that speaks to people of all races, faiths and ages around the world, with universal themes of life, love and loss presented with poetic simplicity and irresistible melodies.

He has earned sales of more than 100 million albums, 22 Top 10 hits, five Grammys, an Academy Award for Best Original Song, a Golden Globe, and a host of other awards from virtually every major entertainment organization. His catalog of timeless hits includes “Say You, Say Me,” “Easy,” “Still,” “Hello,” “Stuck On You,” You Are,” “My Love,” “Endless Love” and “We Are the World.”  By defying boundaries, blending genres and ignoring trends to remain true to what is in his heart, the gifted storyteller has shaped popular culture as his music has served as the soundtrack for generations around the world.

“I was so moved when I found out that I would be inducted into the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame, an honor made even more special because it is shared this year with the late Etta James.  I am so proud to join my friends, including Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, and so many more in the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame,” said Richie.  “The Apollo Theater has meant so much not only to me, but to all of American music. I treasure my memories of the Apollo, each visit is like a family reunion, and I can’t wait for this homecoming to begin.  This will be a truly special and unforgettable night for me.”

Etta James forged a five-decade career with over a dozen hit singles, four Grammys, and a prominent place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  James performed at the Apollo Theater as early as 1957 with Big Maybelle Smith, and then went on to perform again in 1963, during the era when the legendary Frank Schiffman was the Apollo’s manager. Schiffman, known for his meticulous record-keeping, kept a 5”x8” card on every act he hired, noting the act’s opening night and his own comments.  Of Etta’s 1963 appearance, Schiffman wrote: “Wonderful, singing star.”

Initially billed as an R&B and rock and roll singer, James crossed over to the pop market as an interpreter of soulful, jazz-tinged ballads such as “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “My Dearest Darling,” “Trust in Me,” “At Last,” “Don’t Cry, Baby,” and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” which she sang without sacrificing her bluesy and churchy vocal mannerisms.  James passed away on January 20, 2012 at age 73.

The Apollo Theater gratefully acknowledges its spring gala sponsors: Citi; MacAndrews & Forbes; His Excellency Michael Moussa-Adamo, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Gabonese Republic to the United States of America, Mexico and Haiti; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Ticketmaster; and TVOne.  Special thanks to American Airlines, Belvedere, and Moët & Chandon Champagne. (Photos by Shahar Azran)

About the Apollo Theater
The Apollo is a national treasure that has had significant impact on the development of American culture and its popularity around the world. Since introducing the first Amateur Night contests in 1934, the Apollo Theater has played a major role in cultivating artists and in the emergence of innovative musical genres including jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues, soul, and hip-hop. Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown, Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, and countless others began their road to stardom on the Apollo’s stage.

The Apollo Theater’s new artistic vision builds on its legacy. New Apollo programming has music as its core, driving large scale and more intimate music, dance and theater presentations. The Apollo will continue to present historically relevant presentations, as well as more forward-looking, contemporary work. Based on its cultural significance and architecture, the Apollo Theater received state and city landmark designation in 1983 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For more information, visit www.apollotheater.org.

The Apollo’s annual season is made possible by lead support from The Coca-Cola Company, The Parsons Family Foundation, the Ronald O. Perelman Family Foundation, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, Reginald Van Lee New Works Fund, JPMorgan Chase & Co., the Ford Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and individual support from members of the Apollo National Committee and Young Patrons.

Lead annual support is also provided by public funds from the City of New York Theater Subdistrict Council; with additional funding from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; and the New York State Council for the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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

audrey j bernard

Audrey J. Bernard