There is a heightened importance of pouring into cultural institutions that have served as pillars within the Black community. To ensure that these spaces are around for generations to come, our community must prioritize investing in them in whatever way we can. One of these integral spots is the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.
The Apollo Theater's landmark Spring Benefit fundraiser returned to a live format for the first time since the pandemic started in 2020.
Since 1914, the Apollo Theater has been a creative fortress for showcasing artistic achievement. Under the helm of both Jonelle Procope, the CEO and President of the Apollo, and Kamilah Forbes,the Apollo Executive director, this year's benefit boasted an established roster of noteworthy talent and representatives. Chairing the event were Kwanza Jones and José E. Feliciano, Pam and Jon Henes and Pat and Al Zollar; honorary chairs owere Angela Bassett and Courtney Vance, Taraji P. Henson, Susan Kelechi Watson, Phylicia Rashad, LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Samuel L. Jackson, Pauletta and Denzel Washington, Tonya Lewis Lee and her husband Spike Lee. Kenan Thompson was the evening's host, while the Roots, Stephanie Mills, Anthony Hamilton and Ogi were the main entertainment.
Additionally, actress, comedian and EGOT Award winner Whoopi Goldberg presented Tyler Perry with the Impact Award. The Benefit's Corporate Award was given to global investment firm LionTree, who has supported the Apollo Theater in a major way for a number of years.
"When the theater opened its doors in 1934, it was a place of opportunity. It launched the careers of pretty much anyone in music, dance, and comedy because Black people had no opportunity to hone their skills or perform on main stages in cities across the country. The Apollo was it," said Procope. "So today, in 2022, how do we think about that? Now we also consider ourselves a place of opportunity because we are supporting the visions of young artists, emerging artists and seasoned performers who want to push the boundaries and work in another medium or do something that's their passion project. To be able to see that transition, and to see what we're able to accomplish is really important and exciting."
"The idea that people are coming together and supporting us in the way that they are is immensely gratifying but so important for various reasons. The Spring Benefit provides the funds for us to support our educational programs, community programs, and to simply support the operation of the institution so that we may engage with our team and have the ability to pay people what they should be paid," said Procope.
The event not only celebrates the Apollo Theater's rich legacy but solidified its stature as a significant cultivator of art and economic stability for the city Harlem.
"I always like to say that art creates culture. Culture has been set at the center of our community since the dawn of time," said Forbes. "We know that our culture is the true backbone of the greater American community. So without these institutions, we lose that pipeline to, quite frankly, exercise and perform not only our God-given right but our democratic way of having our voices heard to really shape our own future and destiny."
"We are a living, breathing, cultural institution and a force of contemporary culture, not just historical. When people come into our building, we want them to walk away with not only the sense of history and legacy that we're known for," added Forbes. "But we also want to emphasize the fact that we have a staff of close to 100 folks today producing contemporary programming, culturally significant and innovative programming, in addition to educational programs servicing our community, locally, nationally and internationally."
With a record-breaking first in the Spring Benefit's history, the Apollo Theater surpassed their fundraising goal through raising a record amount totaling $3.2 million, including a surprise gift of $500,000 from Tyler Perry, which he had announced on stage.