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Harlem's historic Apollo Theatre celebrated its 50th anniversary with...

By
FRANK SPOTNITZ, UPI Feature Writer

NEW YORK -- Harlem's historic Apollo Theatre celebrated its 50th anniversary with a six-hour benefit performance that starred some of the greatest black entertainers of the past half century.

Saturday night's black-tie extravaganza, hosted by Bill Cosby for a three-hour NBC-TV special May 19, featured singers Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Billy Eckstine, the Four Tops, Al Green, Patti Labelle, Little Richard and Wilson Pickett.

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Tap dancing greats 'Sandman' Sims and Harry Nicholas were among the more than 80 other stars who performed.

Several pop performers, including Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker and George Michael, of the rock group Wham, acknowledged their rhythm and blues influences by appearing on the show.

Percy Sutton, chairman of Inner City Broadcasting, said the show marked the revival of the Apollo, whose agressive audiences and 'amateur night' competition had served as a training ground for thousands of entertainers until it closed in the mid-1970s.

'The Apollo is a cathedral to the people here in Harlem and to me,' Sutton said. He said a production studio was being built on the theater's top floor so a Apollo concerts can be taped and sold for television broadcasts.

The 1,500 tickets sold for as much as $1,000 each and benefitted Africare, the Ethiopian Famine Relief Fund.

Celebreties in the audience included Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, pop artist Andy Worhol, Band Aid organizer Bob Geldof, of the rock group Boomtown rats and at least a dozen city politicians.

The evening began with a champagne reception in a midtown subway station. Guests then rode to the theater on a private subway train, dubbed the 'A Train' in keeping with the Duke Ellington song.

After the show ended at 1:50 a.m., guests dined in a huge tent set up behind the theater on a meal of ribs, fried chicken, sweet potatoes and corn bread.

Highlights of the show included duets with Michael and Robinson ('Careless Whisper'), Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan ('Body and Soul') and Michael and Wonder ('Love's in Need of Love Today').

The show, 'Motown Returns to the Apollo,' closed with the entire cast singing the Foreigner hit 'I Want to Know What Love Is,' accompanied by the New Jersey Mass Choir.

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