Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Smokey Robinson, Patti LaBelle and Ray Charles... are just a few of the names who have been up on the marquee of the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem. And those are just the musicians, the venue has also welcomed comedians like Red Foxx, Richard Pryor, and Moms Mabley, who, according to Jamie Foxx, were all known for "making jokes out of struggle." And now the history and legacy of the landmark will be explored in a new documentary airing on HBO; they just released the first trailer:
The doc, called The Apollo, was directed by Roger Ross Williams, who aims to chronicle the venue's storied past. "What began as a refuge for marginalized artists emerged as a hallowed hall of black excellence and empowerment," a press release notes, adding that Williams "reflects on the struggle of black lives in America, the role that art plays in that struggle, and the part the Apollo Theater continues to play in the cultural conversation."
It also focuses on the venue itself, which originally opened in 1914 as the Hurtig & Seamon's New Burlesque Theater, and was "whites-only," before becoming the Apollo in 1934 and opening its doors to black patrons. While it's now a celebrated landmark (a designation that happened in the 1980s), the venue was struggling and went bankrupt in the 1970s, another notch on the timeline that will be explored in the film.
The story is told through archival footage (both of performances and behind-the-scenes), and interviews (with the likes of Angela Bassett, Common, Jamie Foxx, Doug E. Fresh, Savion Glover, Patti LaBelle, Paul McCartney, Smokey Robinson, and Pharrell Williams). But the film also brings us current, by examining "the current state of race in America," and chronicling the stage adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me "as it comes together on the theater’s grand stage."
The Apollo hits HBO on November 6th.