The Apollo is like the ultimate destination for black artists for quite a time now. Earlier, the careers of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald on its famous Amateur Night were launched by the iconic Harlem theatre, which later became the home away from Detroit for Motown greats such as The Supremes and the Jackson 5.
So it’s only natural that the Soul Train Awards, another culture-moving institution celebrating black music, will be presented at the Apollo Theater for the first time on Saturday before airing on BET on Nov. 28. Maxwell, Leon Bridges, and Silk Sonic are among the artists that will be performing on that renowned stage to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Soul Train” (aka Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak).
When the Apollo Theater was suffering in the 1970s, “SoulTrain” was revving its motor and bringing the black music — and, of course, dancing — experience to your television.
“There was no televised platform specifically for black music,” Brooklyn-born culture critic Nelson George — who wrote the 2014 book “The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style” — told The Post.
He notes that the show came around at just the right time: “When ‘Soul Train’ got big in ’72, ’73, the Apollo wasn’t dead yet but it was on a downward trajectory.”
Don Cornelius created “Soul Train” as a local TV show in Chicago in 1970, and it went national on Oct. 2, 1971, creating a soul-music community where fans across the country could hear the latest jams and learn the latest movements.
With icons like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Gladys Knight performing on both platforms, the Apollo and “Soul Train” were powerful proving — and advertising — grounds for black acts. “The Apollo was a stage you had to hit,” said Connie Orlando, BET’s EVP of specials, music programming, and music strategy, who will manage the awards. ” ‘Soul Train’ was another platform that you had to get to, whether you were a new artist or an established one.
Beyond the music, both the Apollo and “Soul Train” brought home the importance of “seeing yourself represented,” she added.