Legends of the Apollo perform in celebration of Black History Month

Carissa Phillips, Sports Editor

The Ira Aldridge Theater Ensemble performed “Legends of the Apollo” on Feb. 18 in the BTC auditorium in celebration of Black History Month.

Local artist and teacher Donald “The Soul Man” Hyman produced this collaboration of singing, dancing and stand up comedy to recreate a night at the Apollo Theater during the 1930s.

The four performers of the evening included Hyman’s daughter Lucy Taylor, Barry Taylor, Willa Mae Fiddemon and Hyman.

“It’s not always about the music and dancing for us,” said Lucy Taylor. “We love to share the history and culture by incorporating famous singers and actors during the jazz and Motown music era.”

Breaking the boundaries of segregation, the Apollo Theater opened its doors and stage to all races in the 1930s.

“When the Apollo opened in 1934 it was in the market for jazz,” said Hyman. “Ralph Cooper drew crowds in 1935 with the start of Apollos Amatuer Night, hosted every Wednesday.”

Apollo Theater was known for its variety of shows which included comedians, tap dancers, singers, musicians and MCs.

“Once you had a gig at the Apollo you knew you made it,” said Hyman. “You were at the height of your career.”

“All of the acts would have their time as opening acts or headliners,” said Hyman. “ A singer or musician was not always a headliner. [Sometimes] they could open for a comedian. This was another way Apollo Theater set itself apart from all other venues.”

Chitlin’ circuit was a collective name for venues that were safe for African American musicians, comedians, other entertainers through the time of racial segregation in the United States.

The name derives from a cultural African American cuisine but more commonly referred to as the group of Jazz and Motown music lovers and musicians of the 1930s.

“Entertainers would never receive hotel rooms. The chitlin’ circuit formed a safe haven for entertainers to stay before performing at the Apollo,” said Hyman.

Not only was the music, dancing and other entertainment significant in Hyman’s performance but  so was the depth of The Apollo Theater’s history with both segregation and music, which left a lasting impact on the audience.

Barry Taylor, comedian performer, provided the historical facts. “I prefer to give the information to the audience in a comedic manner, but mainly I just like providing the knowledge to others,” said Taylor.

Songs by Etta James, Aretha Franklin and James Brown were sung by Willa Mae Fiddemon while Lucy Taylor danced to songs by Lena Horne and Billie Holiday.

The audience was asked to sing along and dance with the performers on and off stage as they sang “Cupid” by Sam Cook and “Respect” by Aretha Franklin during their finale.

“I feel sorry for the young people today that do not include jazz and Motown in their life,” said Hyman. “[Those who do] are experiencing the wonders of listening to true legends in their lives.”

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