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March 3, 2015

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Yesterday, the Museum of the City of New York unveiled it's Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment exhibit and R&B music legends Dionne Warwick and Chuck Jackson were on hand to pay tribute to the place that gave them their start.

Organized by the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in collaboration with the Apollo Theater, the exhibit explores the Apollo's rich history and seminal influence on popular culture. A combination of images, videos, costumes, artifacts, and text -- a flowing red dress worn by late salsa icon Celia Cruz, a signed gray suit worn by R&B crooner Smokey Robinson, an ankh pendant worn by members of the Universal Zulu Nation headed by the enigmatic Afrika Bambaataa -- bring together the personalities of the world's most influential artists.


Upon entering the exhibit and viewing Michael Jackson's signature black fedora, worn in 1984, there is a solemn feeling in knowing that it was at the Apollo where a young Michael and his siblings won the hearts of many under the moniker The Jackson 5 and also where many came to mourn the passing of arguably the greatest entertainer of all time.

Founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Lonnie G. Bunch III told BlackVoices.com that The Apollo is a "cauldron for creativity."


Warwick, who began singing in church as a young girl in East Orange, New Jersey, referred to the famed musical venue -- located in the epicenter of Harlem -- as her "beginning."

"The Apollo Theater strengthened me to no end. It gave me the confidence -- you had to have it when you walked on that stage -- and as was said, when you walk on a stage that was graced by the legends," she shared. "I still have a lot to go. I'm working on it. I'm a legend-ette."

During her teen years, Warwick and sister Dee Dee Warwick formed their own gospel group, The Gospelaires and while visiting the Drinkard Singers (which included Cissy Houston) at the Apollo Theater she was asked to sing backup during a session for saxophonist Sam Taylor. And the rest is history.

Jackson, who was "discovered" at the Apollo when he opened for singer-performer Jackie Wilson, went on to sign with Motown Records.

The list of musicians that have graced the legendary stage reads like a Who's Who in Music: R&B/Soul, Jazz, Hip-Hop, rooted in the African continent and cultivated in the diaspora. Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Nat 'King' Cole, The Jackson 5, Sarah Vaughan, Lauryn Hill, Chuck Jackson, and Dionne Warwick are just some of the artists who are solidified Apollo legends.

Its mantra of being the place where "stars are born and legends are made" is true to form.

Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment is on view from February 8 through May 1, 2011 at the Museum of the City of New York.

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