The impact New York City’s Apollo Theater has had on culture in general and music in particular cannot be overstated. Since opening in 1914, when African-Americans were not allowed to attend many theaters, it’s become a focal point for the African-American community in Harlem and wider New York City. Billie Holiday, James Brown and Lauryn Hill are just a few of the long list of stars who used the Apollo as a springboard early in their careers.
Kamilah Forbes has curated the Apollo’s offline and online programs as executive producer since 2016, and the award-winning director and producer previously co-founded the iconic Hi-ARTS, originally known as the Hip-Hop Theater Festival. Forbes’ other achievements include the 40th anniversary concert honoring Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On at the Hollywood Bowl in 2014; “One Mic: Hip-Hop Culture Worldwide,” a month-long, multidisciplinary 2014 event; and a 20th anniversary celebration of Nas’ Illmatic.
Forbes and her team walk the walk when it comes to inclusivity, helping young people of color and women to build careers in the business.
“One of the reasons we started our internship programs focusing on behind the scenes, instead of on stage, is because we realized within the field that there’s a major need,” Forbes says. “People of color, women are not sitting in those positions. How do we make sure we are preparing the next generation to be 1) aware that this is a viable career option, and 2) provide the training and the resources to make that happen?
“A lot of folks that have come out of our internship training program are staff members, but then also go on to work at other venues and institutions across the city and the country,” Forbes continues.
The Apollo just named its first artist in residence, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who’s had a strong relationship with the venue for years, and is currently plotting projects he’ll undertake over the next three years. “We thought, a one-year residency actually isn’t enough,” Forbes says. “We’re just getting to know each other – it’s almost like a regular relationship. The first year is the honeymoon phase, and you start to plan out your future.”