Chorus girls at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, 1936 by Lucien Aigner, who was originally from Hungary. He emigrated to the United States to avoid Nazi persecution. Technically an “enemy alien,” he was prohibited from photographing war-related subjects. He noted that he “photographed black people when it was not good manners.” He was also the brother of designer Etienne Aigner.
Duke Ellington performed regularly here, and Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday both launched their careers at the venue’s amateur night. You can say that the Apollo Theater was the ‘Motown’ before Motown. Today, the theater stands as an artifact on the bustling 125th street.
Sarah Vaughan plays the piano as Duke Ellington and Billy Eckstine look on, circa 1950. The Newark, NJ-born Ms. Vaughan studied piano as a child and went on to win first prize at the Apollo Theater’s famous Amateur Night competition. Billy Eckstine was in the audience that night and before long, Ms. Vaughan would sing with Mr. Eckstine in his band. Her recording of “The Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 1 and 2,” is still unmatched for its beauty and brilliance. Photo by Gilles Pet