Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby – and that’s exactly what this exhibit at the Museum of the City Of New York is all about. Built in collaboration with the Apollo Theater, artifacts from the history of Motown and so many other aspects of American pop culture are presented in a tribute to the legendary venue and the artists that have performed there. CBSNewYork spoke to music legendary vocalist Dionne Warwick and Billy Mitchell, the Apollo’s in-house historian and tour guide, as they took in “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing: How The Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment.” (All photos by Shahar Azran Photography, LLC).
Photo Gallery: Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing Exhibit
Dionne Warwick Remembers
Performers like Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill and Stevie Wonder can attribute the birth of their careers to the Apollo.
So can Dionne Warwick – and she remembers her first performance there well.
“The first time I performed there was with my gospel group, and it was amateur night, and we won,” she said. “The next time, of course, was when I appeared [solo] at the Apollo.”
But the amateur hour at the New York City landmark also a reputation for brutal honesty.
“It was a scary occasion,” she said. “You hear so many stories about the Apollo. That was in 1963, and from that moment to this, there’s not a stage I feel I have to be afraid of.”
The Evolution Of Harlem
“Ain’t Nothing But The Real Thing” depicts the history of Harlem and the evolution of the Apollo.
Originally an all-white burlesque house, the theater grew to become a launching pad for a bevy of careers, as well as some of the most iconic American music and culture.
In-house historian Billy Mitchell said the exhibit has been a long time coming.
“[It’s] been in the works for a few years, and now it’s finally here, and we’re excited,” he said, noting that the venue’s come a long way since the days of segregation.”
“[The Apollo] was originally an all-white burlesque house,” Mitchell said. “African-Americans weren’t even allowed in the building.”
In 1976, the venue was closed briefly until new owners bought it in 1984, after burlesque was outlawed – and the theater was renamed to become The Apollo.
“There’s just so many things that blew my mind that we were able to get,” Mitchell said.
Among his favorites are a dress from the Ella Fitzgerald foundation, a dress from Celia Cruz and a suit worn by Smokey Robinson.
But the item that he raved about the most: James Brown’s jumpsuit, donated by the family of the Godfather Of Soul.
“I remember that concert,” Mitchell said. “I remember James Brown wearing it.”
The Birthplace Of Hip-Hop
According to Mitchell, even modern day rap superstars can thank the Apollo for the success of their careers, and the genre as a whole.
“In the eighties, a new generation started coming to the Apollo theater,” he said. “That’s when hip hop artists were allowed to have their concerts done on our stage.”
The likes of Jay-Z, the Beastie Boys and Snoop Dogg have all graced the stage at the Apollo.
“ From the Motown era to Do-wop, even to right now,” said Mitchell. “Hip hop started at the Apollo theater.”
“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment” is free with admission to the Museum of The City of New York. The exhibit runs until May 1.
Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Ave
New York, NY
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