When Fox, “a wet-behind-the-ears white kid with few bona fides,” began asking about Harlem’s then-dilapidated Apollo Theater for his landmark 1983 history, the response was immense. As recounted in this updated graphic adaptation, Dionne Warwick called Fox and said, “I’ve been waiting my whole life for somebody to tell that story!” Her referrals connected Fox to a trove of legends—including Sammy Davis Jr., Gladys Knight, and Ahmet Ertegun—who filled Fox’s notebooks with stories about how one theater became the lodestar for America’s black music and culture. A onetime vaudeville house, the Apollo became a proving ground for most of the 20th century’s great musicians (from Ella Fitzgerald and Lionel Hampton to Jimi Hendrix and James Brown), plus comedians such as Redd Foxx and “hoofers” such as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Later, the Apollo’s raucous amateur nights broke or toughened performers from Lauryn Hill to Dave Chappelle. Smith’s exuberant lines ably transmit the book’s dense energy, as though the narrative is at risk of breaking its bounds, but his thin, rough characterizations don’t always do justice to the material. This is a vibrant, exultant, and soulful history. Agents: Pete Friedrich and Joan Hilty, Pageturner. (Jan.)
Music lovers and history buffs alike will delight in this updated classic, and Smith’s stunning visuals will bring this important and exciting work to a whole new generation of readers.
"...this graphic version is a beautiful, heartfelt, and rich tribute to a musical form, a vital location, and a pure American vision of connecting with the audience in the theater and everywhere else. We can feel the Apollo's heartbeat on every page, and that sensation will make a true believer of even the most jaded reader."
"...even those who are deeply familiar with the Apollo will find some delightful surprises in this evocative fusion of text and images."
"Showtime not only adapts Fox’s book, originally published in 1983, it expands upon it, bringing the story of the venue up to date, including events as recent as 2018 as it tells the complete story of one of the most iconic venues in the country."
This lively graphic novel traces the theater’s place in rhythm and blues, jazz and hip-hop history and its significance to New York City.
"It’s a fizzy, entertaining, jubilant window into a space where so many artists became icons, overcoming hate and ignorance. It’s an essential guide to one of New York City’s greatest cultural institutions."
The graphic novel “Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale of Harlem’s Legendary Theater” is like a sprawling Hollywood biopic… The book also shines a light on Harlem and black culture in America.
Since 1934, Harlem's Apollo theater has married devoted, multiracial audiences with the best among African American performers—who thought of the place as "home." The Apollo became legendary for its music: swing, bebop, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, soul, funk, and hip-hop. This updated adaptation of Fox's 1983 book is channeled through Smith's free-form panels with lively black and blue cameos of the music legends who powered the mutual theater-audience love affair. (LJ 11/1/18)
If you love the Apollo, this book is for you! If you've never heard of it, this book is for you! Have you listened to any American music from the 20th century? This book is for you! In seriousness, this title looks at one of the great, lasting centers of entertainment for African American performers and audiences. Located on 125th Street in Harlem, the Apollo began as a showcase for musicians, dancers, and comedians in the fading days of vaudeville but evolved and adapted its format to thrill packed houses for decades to come, featuring artists from Cab Calloway to Ella Fitzgerald to James Brown to Michael Jackson. The energy of the place is palpable, even frenetic, in Smith's illustrations of shows, backstage drama, and complex business dealings. Fox's text, adapted from his dense cultural history, draws readers in as he describes individuals, musical eras, and even the cultural heritage of the building itself. Though not the last word on the history of African American musical entertainment, this is an exciting starting point. VERDICT A dynamic, fact-filled offering for teens curious about musical history.—Emilia Packard, Austin, TX
This graphic treatment adds a new dimension to a music book that was already hailed as a classic.
Most graphic adaptations aim to reach new generations of readers with a work that is flashier but less substantial than the original. This collaboration between Fox (In the Groove: The People Behind the Music, 1986, etc.) and illustrator Smith represents a new experience for readers, one with an immediacy and vitality that text alone might never approach. Fox's original was published to wide acclaim in 1983; that book illuminated the significance of the Apollo to musicians and to the Harlem community, detailing how it got to be where it was and celebrating the legacy that lives on. The current project gives Fox the opportunity to update the original and to show how, in the subsequent 35 years, the venue has expanded its offerings, hosting the likes of Chris Rock and Bruce Springsteen and a memorial service for James Brown. The narrative brings readers behind the scenes to the real show backstage and to the hotel rooms where the young reporter conducted his interviews. It also highlights the visual performing styles of some of the most galvanic artists in the history of popular music. Performers who were then unknown and were launched as winners of the Apollo's Amateur Night competition include Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Luther Vandross, and Michael Jackson. Fox and Smith effectively present the progression of entertainment styles from swing and tap dance through bebop, gospel and blues, rhythm & blues, soul, and rock. They provide an entertaining, lively narrative with profiles that match the spirit, drawings that seem as musical as the music described within the text.
The renewal of spirit through this striking collaboration reflects the way the Apollo has renewed itself through the decades.