Creating a Diverse, 21st-Century Performing Arts Canon at the Apollo Theater

performer on stage at lectern with others seated across stage Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Apollo’s inaugural Master Artist-in-Residence, at the Apollo Theater. Credit: Shahar Azran Photography

For more than 85 years, the Apollo Theater on 125th Street in Harlem has launched the careers of many musical legends—Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Cooke, and Marvin Gaye are just a few stars who were discovered there.  Named after the Greek god of music, the Apollo is not just a concert venue.  It is a locus of innovation and a creative catalyst for Harlem, New York City, and the world and the soul of American culture.

Affirming its vital role in cultivating emerging artists, the Apollo inaugurates Apollo New Works, a commissioning initiative dedicated to the creation of a diverse, 21st century American performing arts canon.  The first such program in the theater’s history, the initiative will advance bold, creative endeavors and extend the Apollo’s commitment to articulating the African American and African diasporic narrative and its role in the development of American and global culture.

“Our goal for this initiative is to champion a group of voices and promote a new generation of storytellers,” says Kamilah Forbes, the Apollo’s executive producer.  Among the artists and organizations in the inaugural series of commissions are Grammy Award–nominated Stefon Harris, the jazz composer who is building an evening-length work that will explore live performance and technology; artist and scholar Ebony Noelle Golden, who will create a site-specific multidisciplinary performance; and Black Gotham Experience, led by artist and historian Kamau Ware, which will design an immersive walking tour that celebrates the Harlem Renaissance and the Apollo’s rich history.

Some of the commissions will be workshopped and presented in development, providing audiences access to the creative process and to the artists.  Many of the works will premiere at the Victoria Theater, a redeveloped performance space steps away from the Apollo that is scheduled to open in fall 2020.  The facility will enable the Apollo to increase the number of performances and support the growth of its community and educational programming as well as function as an incubator for the new commissions.  The Victoria will also be a home for events and programming created by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Apollo’s inaugural Master Artist in Residence.


Brianna Rhodes, "Apollo Unveils New Commissions, Including Projects by Ta-Nehisi Coates,"The Grio, February 29, 2020.

Jay Connor, "For the Culture: Apollo Theater Announces First-Ever Multidisciplinary Commissioning Initiative," The Root, February 28, 2020.

Sara Aridi, "Apollo Theater Announces New Series of Commissions," The New York Times, February 27, 2020.