The Apollo’s 75th anniversary show Monday night was star-studded to say the least. Bill Cosby and wife Camille got the Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Award. Jamie Foxx did some stand-up and a couple of good imitations (one especially good one of President Obama). Steve Harvey emceed and told more jokes about how he was restraining himself from using the ‘F’ word in his routine because it was a nice event.
There was music, too: Fantasia, newly svelte and elegant in a jet black short wig with bangs and a white mini dress, did a couple of Aretha Franklin songs and Prince’s ‘Purple Rain.’ The O’Jays — still all three original members after 50 years — closed the show with a hot set of their hits including ‘Backstabbers,’ ‘Love Train,’ ‘For the Love of Money,’ and the rousing ‘She Used to Be My Girl.’
Quincy Jones, who’s 76 years young and not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, accepted a lifetime achievement award for 60 years of innovation in jazz, rock, pop, and classical music. He was the only one of the celebrities in the show who bothered to attend the big fundraising buffet later in a giant white carpeted set sent up behind the Apollo on West 125th St. That’s because he’s a mensch.
‘Q’ — that’s what his friends call him — told me: ‘I’m going to China with Halle Berry for a film festival.’
‘Not bad,’ I replied. ‘She’s beautiful.’
Q added quickly, with some disappointment: ‘Her boyfriend, Gabriel, is coming, too.’
It’s actually the Shanghai Film Festival, which starts on Saturday.
Jones then rattled off a list of countries he was going to visit before he returned home. ‘Frank Sinatra said, ‘Live every day like it’s going to be your last,’ ‘ the serene Highness of modern American music observed.
Jones will miss Michael Jackson‘s debut in London on July 13th. He might turn up at some point to see Jackson. But the producer of ‘Thriller’ and Jackson’s other big hits doubts the performer will do all 50 shows for which tickets have been sold.
It was Prince, though, who stole the pre-dinner show because he was a well kept secret. He appeared on stage without any announcement after the band played a minute or so of soft jazz. Now we know some of why he was in New York (see Monday’s column about Prince popping up at a Tony Award after show). If he’s smart, he’ll go see a doctor at the Hospital for Special Surgery, too.
He wore what looked like orange silk pajamas. (They may have been white pjs, bathed in orange light — unclear.) He brandished his diamond walking stick. The audience roared with delight. He spoke softly, as usual. It’s the most I’ve ever heard him say cogently in public.
‘Patti LaBelle is my mother, sister, teacher, my cook,’ he said in a Marilyn Monroe-esque whisper. ‘She’s taught me so much, she helps my guitar playing. I make my guitar sound like her voice.’
(Later, Steve Harvey returned and led the crowd in an a cappella singalong of Prince’s chestnut ‘Adore U.’ For some reason, he also emphasized that Prince gets a lot of women.)
Then Prince said he had a friend in the wings to help introduce LaBelle, but the friend wouldn’t come out when he motioned to him/her. So he went back there to fish the person out. Suddenly, a professional announcer’s voice boomed, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Mariah Carey.’
Mariah, sexy and celebratory, not looking at all like the pepperpot described in Monday’s Page Six, appeared at the microphone and said Patti was her ‘godmother.’ ‘You have become the benchmark for which singing is judged,’ Mariah said in a much clearer voice than Prince. ‘A headliner’s headliner.’
LaBelle, who’d spent most of the night sitting in a box above the stage with pal Denise Rich, accepted her award. She said she couldn’t remember exactly when she got her start, but that she was 65 now and maybe she’d begun when was 17. (Her first big hit came in 1962 with ‘I Sold My Heart to the Junk Man.’) For LaBelle, it was a very short speech. But when the band played her off with her hit, ‘If Only You Knew,’ LaBelle spontaneously sang along for a couple of minutes in case anyone doubted her Apollo Legends award meant she was done with her career. Far from it!