To Be Presented by
The Smithsonians National Museum of African American History and Culture
Exhibition Opens in Washington D.C. on April 23, 2010,
Tours to Detroit, New York, and Other U.S. Cities
Washington, D.C. The first exhibition to explore the Apollo Theaters seminal impact on American
popular culture will be presented this spring by the Smithsonians National Museum of African American
History and Culture (NMAAHC). Aint Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped
American Entertainment examines the rich history and cultural significance of the legendary Harlem
theater, tracing the story from its origins as a segregated burlesque hall to its starring role at the epicenter
of African American entertainment and American popular culture. Among the watershed moments
celebrated by the exhibition:
James Browns hyperkinetic performances and the live recordings that went on to become bestselling
Bill Bojangles Robinsons spell-binding footwork in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera;
Ella Fitzgeralds Amateur Night debut at the age of 17;
The Jackson Fives breakthrough performance, featuring a 9-year-old Michael Jackson;
The Supremes in a dazzling Motown Revue.
Organized by NMAAHC in association with the Apollo and in celebration of the Apollo’s 75th
Anniversary, Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing will be on view in the new museum’s gallery in the
Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History from April 23, 2010 – August 29, 2010.
Following its premiere in Washington D.C., the exhibition will be presented at Detroit’s Charles H.
Wright Museum of African American History from October 1, 2010 – January 2, 2011, at the Museum of
the City of New York from January 30, 2011 – May 1, 2011, and in four additional U.S. cities to be
announced. The tour is being presented in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling
Since 1934, the Apollo has been a driving force in shaping Americas musical and cultural landscape,
says Jonelle Procope, President and CEO of the Apollo Theater. The Apollo has nurtured generations of
artists, and has been a source of entertainment and inspiration to millions of people throughout its 75
years. We are delighted to be partnering with the Smithsonians National Museum of African American
History and Culture to present Aint Nothing Like the Real Thing, which will illuminate the role the
Apollo has played in the creative life of our nation.
Evidence of seismic social changes and instances of astounding musical innovation, as well as subtle
shifts in public taste and mores, will emerge from this portrait of the Apollo. A focus of the exhibition
will be Amateur Night at the Apollo, the legendary Wednesday night revue founded in 1934 by Apollo
emcee Ralph Cooper. Amateur Night has entered millions of American homes over the decades via radio
and television, boosting the careers of Ella Fitzgerald, The Jackson Five, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday,
Gladys Knight and the Pips, Thelonious Monk, Luther Vandross, and countless others.
Succeeding at the Apollo meant that you were firmly grounded in African American culture and very,
very good. And as a beacon of possibility and excellence, the Apollo is a perfect lens through which
NMAAHC can examine many of the countrys most important political, social and cultural
developments, says Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of NMAAHC. The story of the Apollo
yields incredible insight into the flux of African American life in the 20th century from the great
migration to the urban north, through two world wars, and into the civil rights movement.
The exhibitions co-curators, Tuliza Fleming of NMAAHC and Guthrie Ramsey, Associate Professor of
Music History, University of Pennsylvania, are assembling historic and contemporary costumes, play
bills, music scores, graphic images, video clips and recorded music to document Apollo performances by
emerging artists and living legends. The materials are drawn from a number of private and publicly held
collections including those at the African American Museum of Philadelphia, the Ella Fitzgerald
Foundation, the Library of Congress, the Museum of the City of New York, NMAAHC, the National
Afro American Museum of Ohio, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Smithsonians National
Museum of American History.
A companion book, with a foreword by Motown singer, songwriter and producer Smokey Robinson, and
an introduction by Bunch, features historic photographs and essays by 23 historians, musicologists and
critics including Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Levering Lewis, author of W.E.B. DuBois: A
Biography and Robert OMeally, founder of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University.
On View in the Exhibition
Jauntily illustrated playbills and season passes document the Apollos transformation from a whites-only
burlesque hall with its boisterous, and eventually outlawed, shimmy shakers to an integrated theater
for daytime and evening variety shows. The popular revue show format usually set a headliner often a
band leader such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington or Tito Puente alongside six or seven unrelated acts,
which would feature a spell-binding mix of singers, instrumentalists, tap dancers, female impersonators,
chorus-line dancers, acrobats, and comedians bantering with emcee Cooper throughout the show.
The exhibition will spotlight the work of a wide spectrum of entertainers including comedians Redd
Foxx, and Jackie Moms Mabley; blues artists B.B. King and Bessie Smith; dancers Sammy Davis Jr.,
Katherine Dunham and her troupe, Savion Glover, the Nicholas Brothers; jazz artists Louis Armstrong,
Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holliday; hip hop performers LL Cool J and Run-DMC; Latin
musicians Mario Bauza, Celia Cruz, Machito, and Mongo Santamaria.
Aint Nothing Like the Real Thing will offer a fascinating glimpse into the way business was conducted at
the Apollo. A typical day would feature as many as six two-hour shows beginning at 10 a.m. The
demanding nature of the business will be seen in a collection of standard index cards on which Apollo
owner Frank Schiffman kept carefully worded and meticulously typed records of the performers. On each
card Schiffman would note his personal impression of an act, the audiences reaction, and the amount
paid; an index card for Count Basie reads, Played well. Nice personality. Unfortunately, no drawing
power by himself.
A riotous jacket of pink and yellow stripes, yellow pants, minstrel wigs and black-face makeup trace the
roots of African-American comedy at the Apollo to the black vaudeville tradition. Also on view will be
the tiny guitar played by comedian-singer, Timmie Rogers, a veteran of the vaudeville circuit who did
something considered bold in the 1940s: he abandoned his clownish, crowd-pleasing costume to appear in
a tuxedo and lace his song and dance act with sharp social satire. At Rogers first booking at another
theater, he was told that he was doing a white mans act and fired on the spot. By 1957, however, he
had earned top billing at the Apollo.
Long, gossamer-white evening gowns worn by the Supremes, Duke Ellingtons engraved silver cigarette
case, and a royal purple tunic worn by one of the members of Katherine Dunhams dance troupe are
among the objects chosen to show how the stars of the Apollo served as glamorous role models for
Following its showing in the NMAAHC Gallery, Aint Nothing Like the Real Thing: The Apollo Theater
and American Entertainment will travel to Detroits Charles H. Wright Museum of African American
History (October 1, 2010 January 2, 2011), the Museum of the City of New York (January 30, 2011
May 1, 2011), and four additional U.S. cities to be announced.
The Companion Book
Published by Smithsonian Books, the richly illustrated book will explore the social and historical
significance of the Apollo and the cultural impact of the artists who performed there. Zita Allen, a former
critic for Dance Magazine, focuses on the legacy of the Apollo chorus line dancers. Greg Tate, at work
on a biography of James Brown, investigates the unique success of the God Father of Soul. Mel Watkins,
author of On the Real Side: A History of African American Comedy, writes about pioneering comedians at
the Apollo. Ethnomusicologist Christopher Washburne, founding director of the Louis Armstrong Jazz
Performance Program at Columbia University, writes about Latin music at the Apollo.
Apollo Theater, Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2009-2010, the Apollo Theater, a non-profit institution, is one of
Harlems, New York Citys, and Americas most iconic and enduring cultural treasures. The Apollo was
one of the first theaters in New York, and the country, to fully integrate, welcoming traditionally African-
American, Hispanic, and local immigrant populations in the audience, as well as headlining uniquely
talented entertainers who found it difficult to gain entrance to other venues of similar size and resources.
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, DAngelo, Lauryn Hill,
and countless others began their road to stardom on the Apollos stage. 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 http://www.apollotheater.org/.
The Apollo Theaters 75th Anniversary Season is made possible by generous funding from The Edward
and Leslye Phillips Family Foundation, The Coca-Cola Company, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bloomberg,
and New Amsterdam Gin.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 by an Act of
Congress, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. It is the only national museum devoted
exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture. The Smithsonian
Board of Regents, the governing body of the Institution, voted in January 2006 to build the museum on a
five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument on the National Mall.
The building is scheduled to open in 2015. Until then, NMAAHC is presenting its touring exhibitions in
major cities across the country and in its own gallery at the National Museum of American History.
The museum is at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W. in Washington, DC. It is open daily from 10
a.m. to 5:30 p.m. except Dec. 25. Admission is free.
For more information, visit nmaahc.si.edu or call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).