*The third annual Dining with the Divas luncheon raised more than $200,000 to benefit the theater’s education and community programs.
Funds raised will support the non-profit theater’s education and community programs, which include career day panels, in-school enrichment programs, a summer internship program, a Saturday workshop series, and the Apollo’s Oral History program. Sponsors for Dining with the Divas included Credit Suisse, Estee Lauder, Ferrell-Brown Design, Hearst Magazines, Lane Bryant and Viacom.
The annual fundraiser celebrating the achievements of extraordinary women in media, music, fashion and business also marked the tenth anniversary of the First Lady of the Apollo Theater, Jonelle Procope. Specially invited guests mixed and mingled with celebrities who all gathered on the world famous Apollo Theater stage and front orchestra for the Valentine day sweetheart luncheon hosted by Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist Star Jones.
The iconic stage, where legendary divas such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight have enchanted audiences, offered attendees an opportunity to connect with some of the country’s most powerful, accomplished, and influential women such as: Gayle King, Robin Verges, Alicia Bythewood, Crystal McCrary, Bari Seiden, Erica Reid, Connie Ann Phillips, Sheila Newman Johnson, Loida Nicholas Lewis and Thelma Golden.
“Dining with the Divas is a moment for the Apollo to spotlight women impacting the world through their work, and to acknowledge their role as mentors for the next generation,” said Apollo president and CEO Procope. “The Apollo is all about paying it forward, and our audience included some young women who have participated in our education programs. It is important that we let our young people to have access to inspirational women, and to stand on our shoulders as we have all stood on shoulders of others.”
During the divine divas event, the Apollo staff surprised the ultimate boss lady Procope with a special presentation in celebration of her 10th year as president & CEO of the Apollo. “She was super surprised,” said Apollo’s director of public relations and communications Nina Flowers. The presentation included a special video staff created with all of her milestone Apollo moments like Bruce Springsteen’s concert or unveiling our new Walk of Fame in 2010.
It also included speeches by board members Yolanda Ferrell-Brown and JoAnn Price as well as lovely remarks from Jonelle’s husband Fred Terrell and Ken Knuckles of Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. There was also a letter from Mayor Bloomberg congratulating the boss lady on her 10 year milestone read during the presentation.
In saluting his bride, wife and mother of his handsome 2 sons Terrell said, “Jonelle is a woman’s woman, she is here for women whether you lose your job, lose your cell phone or lose your man.” These in-your-face words drew loud applause of approval from the mostly female audience.
Procope is also a friend of young people and received glowing remarks from a younger person’s perspective. “From the younger generations I look for women who are committed to making a change and who have a vision to make a change,” stated Alexis McGill Johnson.
“The best advice I’ve gotten from a mentor is that you can be graceful, elegant and successful. It’s important to teach people how to take it to the next level,” stated Jennifer Maanay from Physique 57. “We hold our employees to high standards. We have 105 employees that work for us and 103 of them are women. Most of them are under 30. We teach them not only how to teach but also how to be successful as professional women. Women should nurture others, ask questions and work hard,” added Maanay.
“No one in this room here has gotten here without someone spending capital on their behalf. We cannot afford to stand in the way of others. The difference between a mentor, advisor and sponsor,” stated Apollo board member Carla Harris. “Advisor is the person you ask discrete questions to. Mentor is the person that will tell you the good, the bad and the ugly. It must be someone you trust and they must be someone who knows you. A mentor’s job is to give you tailored advice to you and your career aspirations. A sponsor is the person you tell the Good, Good, Good and the GOOD. Your mentor does not need to look like you, but must understand the context you are in.”
After all of the toasts which were tweeted all over by the ladies who lunch it was time for Procope to address the crowd. The visibly moved Procope began by thanking everyone for their continued support of this supreme sweetheart event. “Thank you all for being here. I am deeply grateful. I am simply blown away by all of this. I pride myself on knowing everything that’s going on and I did not have a clue.” She then turned her attention to her amazing Apollo staff. “This means so much coming from my friends, my colleagues and the amazing Apollo staff. They say it takes a village to build something and indeed I am proud to be a part of such an amazing village. I am so excited about where this institution is and I’m very hopeful about the future. And I hope you continue to be a part of the Apollo family and come on this journey with us.”
The Apollo’s annual season is made possible by lead support from The Coca-Cola Company, JPMorgan Chase & Co., The Parsons Family Foundation, the Ronald O. Perelman Family Foundation, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, Reginald Van Lee New Works Fund, the Ford Foundation Fund for Global Programs, Time Warner, Inc., Bloomberg Philanthropies, JoAnn Price, Folonari Wines, the Apollo Board of Directors and many other generous donors.
Lead annual support is also provided by public funds from the City of New York Theater Subdistrict Council and the New York City Regional Economic Development 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 on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
Apollo Music Café is supported in part by the Ford Foundation Fund for Global Programs and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Leadership support for Apollo Education programs are from The Coca-Cola Foundation and the Ronald O. Perelman Family Foundation. (Photos by Shabar 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.
Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.