Also, Amateur Night at The Apollo kicks off 2014 Season

apollo theater - jennifer jones austin and others

Jennifer Jones Austin, Chief Executive Officer, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agency, Jonelle Procope, Apollo President and CEO, Josie Thomas, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer CBS Corporation, Lisa S. Coico, President, The City College of New York, and Lauren Maillian-Bias, Founder and CEO Luxury Market Branding (Photo by Shahar Azran)

*February 14th is Valentine’s Day.  A day filled with sweet sentiments – like the sending of cards, flowers, stuffed animals, chocolates, candies, jewelry, and restaurants overflowing with reservations.

It’s also the perfect time for engagements.  And Uptown on 125th Street at The Apollo Theater, it’s a day in which the historic venue hosts a very special event, Dining with the Divas.

The sweetheart soiree took place on Friday, February 14, 2014 on the Apollo’s iconic stage, where legendary Divas such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight have enchanted audiences.  Lovable TV star/singer Tamara Tunie served as host and Amateur Night 2013 “Super Top Dog Winner” Claire Kwon’s performance set the tone for a sweet afternoon.

The dee-vine luncheon offered participants an opportunity to connect with some of the country’s most powerful, accomplished, and influential women.  Dining with the Divas raised over $250,000, which 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.

Let me set the stage for you.  The sharp and stylish ladies braved snow, slush and frigid weather to attend the annual luncheon which was set in a spring-inspired, picturesque scene created by Ferrell-Brown Designs.  The atmosphere was beautifully festooned in luscious pink and scorching red hot trimmings topped off with stunning floral designs by Harlem Flo.  On the back of each seat was a swag bag filled with gifts generously provided by Estee Lauder and Mars North America.  The lavish luncheon was catered by Great Performances followed by wickedly delicious desserts by Magnolia Bakery with champagne provided by La Caravelle and wines from Frederick Wildman Wines.

All dynamic co-chairs of the Diva host committee attended including Michelle Gadsden-Williams, Carolyn Minick Mason, Esq., Jacqueline Nickelberry, Esq., Michelle Adkins, Yolanda Ferrell-Brown, Rita Jammet and Adrienne Johnson; along with members of the Diva committee which was composed of a who’s who of powerful movers, shakers and trendsetters.

At the end of the luncheon, the celebration of exceptional women continued at the “Gone with the Wind” fabulous Red Rooster restaurant at the invitation of its owner/restaurateur and Apollo Board Member Marcus Samuelsson.  Sponsors for Dining with the Divas included American Airlines, Barneys New York, Citi, Credit Suisse, Duane Reade Charitable Foundation, Estee Lauder, JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley.

Attendees included:  Jennifer Jones Austin, Jean Shafiroff, Loida Lewis, Jennifer Jones Austin, Daniella Vitale, Josie ThomasMercedes Cotchery, Debra Shriver, Lisa Garcia Quiroz, Lisa Price, Shawn R. Outler, Lesley Goldwasser, Carla Harris, Thelma Golden, Jennifer Scully-Lerner, Dr. Lisa Coico, Dawne Marie Grannum, Deborah Roberts, Regina Moore, Agnes Hassell, Maria Cornejo, Marva Smalls, Lu Willard, Harriette Mandeville and Nina Garcia.

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, Jonelle Procope.  “The Apollo is all about paying it forward.  Our education programs are training the next generation of theatrical professionals and arts audiences.  Our students and young people will stand on our shoulders as we have all stood on shoulders of others.”

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.

The Apollo Theater’s imaginative education programs engage over 7,000 elementary and high school students from underserved communities in the New York metropolitan area.  Two signature programs are the Apollo Theater Academy and the Oral History Project.  The Apollo Theater Academy, one of the very few programs of its kind in New York City, teaches high school students about careers in a wide range of behind-the-scenes arts and entertainment professions.  The Apollo’s Oral History Project engages fourth and fifth grades from P.S. 154, the Harriet Tubman Learning Center, in a two-year sequence of interviewing neighborhood elders and transforming their life stories into theater, music, poetry, and visual art.

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 2013-2014 season is made possible by lead support from Citi, the Coca-Cola Company, Troy and Keisha Dixon, Folonari Wines and Cavicchioli 1928, the Ford Foundation Fund for Global Programs, the Hearst Foundations, Robert K. Kraft, The Parsons Family Foundation, the Ronald O. Perelman Family Foundation, JoAnn Price, Rockefeller Cultural Innovation Fund, The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, Earl W. and Amanda Stafford, Time Warner Inc., the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, the Reginald Van Lee New Works Fund, the Apollo Board of Directors, and many other generous donors.

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

apollo amateur night

Opening Night Amateur Night at The Apollo winners (left to right) First Place Winner Nickayla; Second Place Winner Henry Smith and Third Place Winner Julissa Lopez (Photo by Shahar Azran)

*On Wednesday, January 29, 2014, the historic landmark, The Apollo Theater located on the legendary 1-2-5 Street, Harlem, New York, opened its highly anticipated Amateur Night at the Apollo 2014 season simultaneously with celebrating the storied theater’s 80th anniversary and honoring Apollo Legend Chuck Jackson with induction into the Apollo Walk of Fame presented by the Apollo Theater President and CEO Jonelle Procope accompanied by the historic institution’s in-house historian and tour director, Billy “Mr. Apollo” Mitchell.

Amateur Night at the Apollo’s exuberant host, comedian Capone, opened this year’s exciting edition of the theater’s signature show by proudly introducing the evening’s new line-up of contestants who competed for a chance to perform during the March 5, 2014 “Show Off” and move on to “Top Dog” on May 21, 2014 with the expectation of winning the title of “Super Top Dog” and a cash prize of $10,000 in November 2014.  Amateur Night at the Apollo’s 2014 season runs from January 29, 2014 through November 2014 on Wednesday nights at 7:30pm.

This year’s competing contestants included Nickayla, Devyn Tyson, Julissa Lopez, Pamela Danielle, Tim Davis, Laura Bretan, Brieheim Branch, Henry Smith and Models Envied.  Each contestant brought his/her A-game to the historic stage and rendered stellar performances that they should all be proud of.

However, after all the tears, jeers and cheers, the first place winner was Nickayla, singing “It’s Love.”  Henry Smith took home second place with his rendition of “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time” and Julissa Lopez won third place singing “Teach Me Tonight.”  The “Star of Tomorrow” winner was Laura Bretan, singing “Nella Fantasia.”  Former “Star of Tomorrow” contestants, The Mayne Event, buoyed the crowd with a special show displaying why they are a titled act.  In addition, the celebrated evening featured a special performance by Hip Hop superstar Doug E. Fresh who was surprised on stage by his longtime friend and colleague, DJ KOOL Herc.

Amateur Night at the Apollo is favored viewing universally.  Each production is produced by Marion J. Caffey and begins with a festive pre-party featuring video and music by director and keyboard player Onree Gill, “Set it Off Man” Joe Gray and DJ Jess.  Then aspiring musicians, singers, dancers, comedians, rappers and spoken word artists do their best to win over the Apollo’s discerning audience.

As they enter the stage contestants rub the Apollo’s famous hunk of a tree stump for luck and pray that they don’t encounter the broom of resident “Executioner” C.P. Lacey who sweeps bad talent off the stage and sends them packing based on the raucous jeers from the Apollo judges – the audience.  Those that are cheered get to stick around for the finale with the talent receiving the most applause winning the evening’s competition.  The audience’s motto is, “be good or be gone!”

Since its inception 80 years ago, in 1934, Amateur Night at the Apollo has been one of New York City’s most popular live entertainment experiences, launching the careers of thousands of performers and attracting audiences from all over the world.  Amateur Night at the Apollo has long been revered by artists as a transformative experience where up-and-coming talent feels the power of the legendary performers who have come before them, and where audience response can help make or break a career.

Through its partnership with the Coca-Cola Company, Amateur Night at the Apollo was retooled at the beginning of the 2010 season and features several new programmatic elements including theme nights, a DJ driven pre-show party and expanded auditions.

Tickets for Amateur Night at the Apollo begin at $20 and are available at The Apollo Theater Box Office: (212) 531-5305, 253 West 125th Street; Ticketmaster at (212) 307-7171 or www.ticketmaster.com.

New York based award-winning journalist Audrey J. Bernard covers entertainment, book reviews, fashion & beauty, film, lifestyles, theater and travel for the Electronic Urban Report and other outlets.  Contact her via: [email protected]

audrey bernard

Audrey J. Bernard