Apollo Theater Oral History Project


Through generous support from the Apollo Theater Foundation, the Columbia Center for Oral History conducted 70 hours of interview with leading figures in the Apollo Theater’s history with music performers, dancers, talent scouts and comedians; as well as former business managers and owners, directors and staff.

The interviews place the Apollo Theater, at its 75th anniversary, within the larger scope of African-American history, the history of music and performance and the history of New York City. The interviews reveal the unparalleled legacy of the Theater’s ability to attract extraordinarily talented young performers, such as Smokey Robinson and Dionne Warwick, and lend them the platform they needed to develop wider audiences. 

In addition to interviews with these two legends, CCOH recorded audio and video interviews with Candido Camero, Nona Hendrix, Maurice Hines, Quincy Jones, Gladys and Bubba Knight, Gloria Lynne, Leslie Uggam and the late Billy Taylor.   Robert Schiffman, former owner of the Apollo, was also interviewed at great length.  Other interviews with people associated with the production of shows and the leadership of the Apollo reveal the deep historical context in which the theater evolved over the years, as a center for exploring the arts within black culture that influenced the appreciation of American music around the world. 

CCOH is deeply grateful to Steve Rowland, award-winning radio producer and president of CultureWorks, and Brent Hayes Edwards, Professor of English and Comparative Literature and author of The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation and Internationalism for conducting the majority of the  interviews. Gustavo Azendha, Karald Kisiedu and Jennella Young, our project coordinator, also contributed interviews for the project. 

The Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning contributed 22 hours of videography for the project, and the interviews they produced will be used in online courses by Columbia faculty and students. The Smithsonian Museum also used the interviews in a traveling exhibition.

The Apollo Theater Foundation was generously supported by the Edward and Leslye Phillips Family Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the New York Community Trust to undertake the project. The majority of the interviews will become available to the public in late 2011.

For more information about the Apollo Theater Archive Project, the Smithsonian Museum's touring exhibit Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment, publications, and the Apollo Theater's current programs, click here