Request for immediate release ain’t nothing like the real thing

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Leigh Massey-Besalke, 404.814.4033

Interview and images available on request


-New Exhibition Explores How The Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment-
ATLANTA, GA – An institution like no other, the Apollo Theater has spawned and nurtured the creative genius of some of America's most famous stars of dance, comedy, and the musical genres of swing, cool jazz, bebop, rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues, gospel, Latin, and hip-hop. Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment is the first exhibition to examine the rich history and cultural significance of the legendary Harlem theater, tracing the story from its origins as a segregated burlesque hall to its starring role at the epicenter of African American entertainment and American popular culture.
Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment, presented by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in collaboration with the Apollo Theater Foundation, will be on display at the Atlanta History Center October 8, 2011 – March 4, 2012. The Atlanta History Center is the only southeast venue to host this traveling exhibition, which was organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).
Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2009-2010, the Apollo Theater, a non-profit institution, is one of Harlem’s, New York City’s and America’s most enduring cultural treasures. The Apollo was one of the first theaters in New York—and the country—to fully integrate, welcoming traditionally African American, Hispanic and local immigrant populations in the audience, as well as headlining uniquely talented entertainers who found it difficult to gain entrance to other venues of similar size and resources.
Since introducing the first Amateur Night contests in 1934, the Apollo Theater has played a major role in cultivating artists and hosting some of the best-known names in entertainment – dancers Charles "Cholly" Atkins, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson; band leaders Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington; comedians Redd Foxx and Jackie "Moms" Mabley; and musicians ranging from Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and James Brown to Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, Lauryn Hill, LL Cool J and countless others who began their careers on the Apollo’s stage. Based on its cultural significance and architecture, the Apollo Theater received state and city landmark designation in 1983 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“This exhibition invites visitors to explore American entertainment and culture with a behind-the-scenes view of the iconic Apollo Theater. Historic and contemporary costumes, playbills, music scores, images, recorded music, and one-of-a-kind and rarely displayed artifacts from the legends who graced the stage truly open up a dialogue of history through pop culture among multiple generations,” said Gordon Jones, Atlanta History Center curator.
Exhibition co-curators Tuliza Fleming of the museum and Guthrie Ramsey Jr., the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania, have assembled historic and contemporary costumes, playbills, music scores, graphic images and recorded music to document Apollo’s history, including memorable performances by the emerging artists and living legends who graced its stage. Moving chronologically through the theater’s development,

exhibition panels provide context to the featured objects and are enhanced by an introductory film and video alcoves,

which offer a multimedia experience for visitors. A short film accompanying the exhibition and narrated by actress S. Epatha Merkerson (television's "Law and Order") throws the spotlight on the Wednesday night phenomenon known as "Amateur Night at the Apollo."


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Among the one-of-a-kind and rarely displayed artifacts in the exhibition are:
•James Brown’s cape and jumpsuit—Brown was an Apollo regular even after he reached superstar status.
•Michael Jackson’s fedora—Jackson won Amateur Night in 1967 with the Jackson 5.
•The Supremes’ dresses—The original trio first played the Apollo in 1962 as part of the dazzling Motown Revue.
•Cab Calloway’s baton—Calloway was one of the most popular swing era band leaders.
•Sammy Davis’ childhood tap shoes—Davis first appeared on the Apollo stage in 1947.
•Peg Leg Bates’ peg leg—Despite losing his left leg in an accident at age 12, Bates pursued his dream of tap dancing. By the mid-1930s, he was an Apollo regular.
•Duke Ellington’s score for Black and Tan Fantasy (1927)—The legendary jazz composer and bandleader wrote some of the best-known compositions in American music.
•Ella Fitzgerald’s dress—Fitzgerald made her Amateur Night debut at the age of 17.
•Miles Davis’ flugelhorn—Davis frequently headlined at the Apollo.
•LL Cool J’s jacket and hat—LL Cool J remains one of today’s best-known rappers.
•Celia Cruz’s dress—Known as the Queen of Salsa, Cruz was a symbol of Afro-Cuban music throughout the African diaspora.
Featured objects are drawn from a number of private and publicly held collections, including those at the African American Museum of Philadelphia, the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, the Library of Congress, the Museum of the City of New York, the National Afro American Museum of Ohio, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Available for purchase in the Atlanta History Center museum shop, a companion book (Smithsonian Books) with a foreword by Smokey Robinson, Motown singer, songwriter and producer, and an introduction by NMAAHC director Lonnie Bunch, features historic photographs and essays by 23 historians, musicologists and critics including music historian Kandia Crazy Horse, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Levering Lewis and Robert O'Meally, founder of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University.
“As a beacon of possibility and excellence, the Apollo is a perfect lens through which the museum can examine many of the country’s most important political, social and cultural developments,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of NMAAHC. “The story of the Apollo yields incredible insight into the flux of African American life in the 20th century—from the great migration to the urban north, through two world wars and into the civil rights movement.”
Support: The exhibition’s national tour is made possible by a generous grant from Time Warner Inc. Additional funding was provided by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Founded in 1926, the Atlanta History Center is an all-inclusive, thirty-three acre destination featuring the Atlanta History Museum, one of the Southeast’s largest interactive history museums; two historic houses, the 1928 Swan House and the 1860 Smith Family Farm; the Centennial Olympic Games Museum; the Kenan Research Center; the Grand Overlook event space; Chick-Fil-A at the Coca-Cola Café, a museum shop, and acres of Historic Gardens with paths and the kid-friendly Connor Brown Discovery Trail. In addition, the History Center operates the Margaret Mitchell House. Located in

Midtown Atlanta, the two-acre campus features tours of the apartment where Margaret Mitchell wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gone With the Wind, an exhibition highlighting the life of Margaret Mitchell, a Gone With the Wind movie exhibition, and a museum shop.
For more information on Atlanta History Center offerings, hours of operation, and admission, please call 404.814.4000 or visit

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 by an Act of Congress, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture. The Smithsonian Board of Regents, the governing body of the Institution, voted in January 2006 to build the museum on a five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument on the National Mall. The building is scheduled to open in 2015.  Until then, NMAAHC is presenting its touring exhibitions in major cities across the country and in its own gallery at the National Museum of American History.


The NMAAHC Gallery at the National Museum of American History is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W. in Washington, D.C. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. Admission is free. For more information, visit or call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).   

ABOUT SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION TRAVELING EXHIBITION SERVICE (SITES):SITES has been sharing the wealth of the Smithsonian Collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science, and history, which are shown wherever people live, work, and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at


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