The Apollo Theater, a legendary New York City venue that has hosted the likes of Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and more, is the subject of a new documentary from HBO. Directed by Oscar® and Emmy® winner Roger Ross Williams, the new film chronicles the legacy and rich history of the storied Harlem performance space which has been around for eighty-five years. The Apollo will trace the evolution of the theater itself, and will also explore 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. Check out the trailer below!

Weaving together archival footage of music, comedy and dance performances with behind-the-scenes footage of the team that makes the theater run, the film features interviews with such artists as Angela Bassett, Common, Jamie Foxx, Doug E. Fresh, Savion Glover, Patti LaBelle, Paul McCartney, Smokey Robinson, and Pharrell Williams. Parallel to the historical narrative, The Appollo examines the current state of race in America, chronicling the multimedia stage adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ acclaimed Between the World and Me, as it comes together on the theater’s grand stage.

Men getting ready backstage at The Apollo, Photo Credit: Steven Schapiro / Courtesy of HBO

The film will show the theater during good and bad times and explore its well known traditions like “Amateur Night,” which dates back to the 1930s. The Apollo will recount highlights, such as when James Brown recorded “Live at the Apollo” in, whose 1963 or when President Barack Obama came to visit, along with more difficult times in the life of the Apollo such as when the theater went into bankruptcy during the 70’s. Eventually, the theater was bought by civil rights attorney Percy Sutton and became a New York City landmark.

Joe Gray, Apollo’s Amateur Night audience warm up master, Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO

Williams brings together a wide range of voices to tell the story of The Apollo, including members of the Harlem community, beloved audience devotees such as Eva Isaac and behind-the-scenes notables including in-house historian/tour guide Billy Mitchell, who has worked at the theater for more than fifty years and is now affectionately known as “Mr. Apollo.” These local figures are joined by prominent journalists, historians and others including: writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, Apollo Theater President & CEO Jonelle Procope, and former owner Bobby Schiffman.

Smokey Robinson, Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO

The Apollo debuts Wednesday, November 6th at 9:00pm EST. The documentary be available to stream on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and partners’ streaming platforms.

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