What a night for the Apollo Theater! No less than Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole, the Isley Brothers, and more helped the world famous Apollo celebrate its 80th birthday last night. The Apollo, once almost shuttered during the worst times in the city’s economy, has become one of New York’s top 10 cultural institutions thanks in large part to former Time Warner chairman Dick Parsons, who was given the theater’s highest honor last night.
Of course, Parsons had to get through a funny, if f-word speckled speech from his good pal, Revlon chairman Ronald Perelman. The latter acknowledged how Parsons had saved Time Warner after Gerald Levin “f-ed” it up. The well dressed Apollo crowd gasped the first time they heard Perelman say that word. By the third time, they were over it.
And what about Wayne Brady? The host of “Let’s Make a Deal” is wasting his time on that game show. Brady sang Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” with the Ray Chew Orchestra, and was absolutely sublime. I’ve never understood why Brady is not on the level of say Hugh Jackman or Neil Patrick Harris– he should be the break out host of every awards show, or definitely on Broadway. CBS should move “Deal” to NYC for a while so Brady can be in a show like “After Midnight.”
Anyway, the Apollo birthday also included tributes to gospel music with Edwin Hawkins performing his classic “Oh Happy Day” and Savion Glover was a special guest with hot tap dance number. There was also a longish medley of soul tunes by a white Australian group called Human Nature.
But the other highlight was Joss Stone, still only 26, blasting the room with a sizzling take on James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World.” Stone was Adele before there was Adele. She’s ready for a career part 2 Renaissance.
I ran into Stedman Graham, Sylvia Rhone, Tamara Tunie and Gregory Generet, and the Apollo’s super team– CEO Jonelle Procope and PR chief Nina Flowers– in the huge glamorous tent erected behind the theater on West 126th St. where the food included desserts from the Magnolia Bakery. Yowza.
And yes, for the first time ever– I’m running a picture of yours truly with Ms. Knight. She’s got a new album coming out in September. If you heard her sing jazz standards last night, she was breathtaking. It’s time for a Kennedy Center honor for Gladys Knight!