Cab Calloway’s engagements at the Apollo Theater in Harlem (part 4)

Part 4: The renaissance years

The history of the Apollo took a different path than Cab Calloway’s career. After the Porgy and Bess international tour, the Harlem Globetrotters annual tours as supporting act, Cab found his way on Broadway with Hello, Dolly!, and The Pajama Game. His renaissance years started for a new generation of admirers with John Landis’s movie The Blues Brothers (1980) that propelled him to a new fame, despite his embarrassing disco version of Minnie the Moocher.

For the Apollo Theater, the decades of the Sixties and Seventies were dedicated to the Soul music and put lights on wonderful artists like James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, B.B. King, Jimmy Witherspoon, Odetta…

Yet, in the mid 1970s, the Apollo attracts fewer and fewer artists, whose incomes are instead found in the recording business.

In 1976 the shows were discontinued, and the theatre was operated (unsuccessfully) as a movie theatre. A year later the building was closed. Purchased by investors in 1981, the Apollo received landmark status in 1983, was renovated, and was reopened to the public in 1985.


1965 Apollo Theater lobby.jpg
Lobby of the Apollo (1965) with the famous montage of the many performers.
Like the harsh audience, those montages are part of the soul of the place.


1972 – “Stars of the Apollo Theatre” compilation

A wonderful compilation by CBS presented in a gatefold double LP presented many numbers by artists who performed at the Apollo. Unfortunately, none of the tracks was a real “live” session recorded on 125th Street. For Cab Calloway, the tune “Fifteen Minute Intermission” was the song selected. And it's only the studio version, recorded onJune 27, 1940.

1972 Stars of the Apollo LP.jpg



1974 – Cab Calloway at the Apollo: a classic!

In 1974, Cab Calloway made a discreet yet worldwide famous return to the Apollo Theater. On its stage, on front of the famous curtain, Cab posed with his iconic yellow zoot suit from Stormy Weather fame, for the cover of the compilation double-LP released by CBS.


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The famous cover “Hi De Ho Man, Cab Calloway Classics”


1974 Cab Calloway – Hi De Ho Man CBS LP2.jpg
On the back 4 classics poses by the Maestro


Thanks to collector Keller Whalen, we are able to share some of the 25 outtakes of the shooting. Classic Cab, indeed!

1974 Apollo Cab Calloway CBS Hi de Ho Man outtake 11.jpg1974 Apollo Cab Calloway CBS Hi de Ho Man outtake 12.jpg
1974 Apollo Cab Calloway CBS Hi de Ho Man outtake 17.jpg1974 Apollo Cab Calloway CBS Hi de Ho Man outtake 14.jpg


But that’s on television that we are more inclined to watch Cab Calloway on the stage of the Apollo.  At a time where TV specials and tributes were the trend on any network, trying to showcase Black talents, Cab Calloway had several opportunities to shine as one of the historical performers on this landmark in Harlem’s culture.


1976, April: “Apollo” TV series

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Trade ad published in 1976

Taped at the actual stage of the theater, it has been seen around the country from late April to the end of May 1976. The first 90-mn show, hosted by George Kirby features Cab Calloway, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Vivian Reed and the cast of Bubbling Brown Sugar (where Cab is involved too) and other artists. AS stated by the reviewer in Variety dated May 12, 1976, “‘Apollo’ goes across the spectrum of black musical styles and makes a national institution come to life on the tube.”

Cab also appears in show number 3, with the likes of The Copasetics, Patti LaBelle, Ashford and Simpson, The Barrett Sisters, Taj Mahal and the Drifters.

Ralph Matthews, Jr., in his column published in the Afro-American dated October 30, 1976 writes: “The Copasetics, six aging tap dancers, Honi Coles is one I recognize. Cab Calloway comes out from the wings for a turn. Cab was a hoofer in his prime. The moves have slowed but what their feet are doing is still wondrous. They bring down the house. (…) I almost cry. The camera pans over the audience. Mostly young. They are happy.  About tap-dancing. Ecstatic. My God what is this. Can it be? Can it be that jazz dancing, once the most manly of Black art forms, indeed the most defiant, is having a revival?”


May 1980 – “Uptown – A Tribute to the Apollo Theater”

A two-hour musical-comedy history tour of the Apollo, announced early in February 1979 only saw the light of the screen in May 1980. It includes Lou Rawls, Natalie Cole, Gladys Night, The Temptations, Sandman Sims, Bunny Briggs, Ben Vereen, Flip Wilson, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, etc. with musical direction by Phil Moore.

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Cab Calloway introducing "Uptown" with his orange zoot suit

Jack Albertson plays the role of Frank Schiffman. As told by Cecil Smith in her review: “From the moment Cab Calloway opens the show and dancers swing into a wild jitterbug to Ellington’s ‘Take the A Train,’ the Apollo seems to live again – even on a soundstage before a mock marquee.” (The Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1980). Indeed, at that time, the theater is closed and the shooting was done on a Hollywood soundstage.

Read our article about Uptown


The magical introduction by Cab Calloway, always prompt to boogie at 73, with the Lester Wilson Dancers



May 19, 1985: “Motown Returns to the Apollo”

A three-hour special produced by NBC to celebrate the 50th anniversary and the official reopening of the Apollo Theatre. With none other than Bill Cosby as the host and an all-star roster with headliners that include: Gregory Hines, The Commodores, Stevie Wonder, Sara Vaughan, Patti LaBelle, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, James Brown, Little Richard, The Drifters, Martha Reeves, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis, Jr., unexpected Joe Cocker or Boy George… and a very much expected Cab Calloway, of course!

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NBC produly presents the TV show "Motown Return to the Apollo"
(courtesy of Keller Whalen)

The show was taped on May 5 on the actual and new refurbished Apollo Theatre before a VIP audience. The shooting was followed by a dinner dance to benefit the Africare/Ethiopian Relief Fund. But Cab canceled his engagement at the last minute, so we can only appreciate archive footage…

Supposed to transform the theatre into a video and audio production center for live performances transmitted via satellite, the new operator (Inner City Broadcasting Corporation) also wanted the Apollo to be a Hall of Fame and a museum.

Watch the whole show (2 hours and 21 minutes) – Cab was supposed to appear at 00:50:59


June 2, 1986: honored at the Apollo

At the opening night ceremony for the Black film festival “From Harlem to Hollywood” settled at the Apollo, a dozen African American performers are inducted into The Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame: Eartha Kitt, the Nicholas Brothers, Ivan Dixon, Geoffrey Holder, Kevin Hooks, Yaphet Kotto, Butterfly McQueen, Carmen De Lavallade, Gordon Parks Sr. and Paul Robeson Jr. The black-tie gala happens at the Park Avenue Atrium.


August 14, 1986: New York Pops plays the Apollo

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The program as a fake Daily News edition
(courtesy - again - of Keller Whalen)

For this special evening sponsored by newspaper Daily News, the Philip Morris Magazine and the Pepsi Cola Company of NYC (Coca Cola was already one of the main sponsors of the Apollo), is a benefit for the Malcolm-King College in Harlem.

The New York Pop orchestra, founded in 1983, is conducted by Skitch HENDERSON.

The evening is split in two parts:

• “Uptown is Hot” with special guest star Maurice HINES. Gregory’s brother was part of the Hines brothers who toured with Cab and the Cotton Club Revue in the Fifties (read our article). He recently appeared in the Coppola’s movie “The Cotton Club” and in the Broadway musical “Eubie”.

• “A Salute to ‘The Duke’” starring Cab Calloway, dedicated to Ellington, of course.

Unfortunately, we don’t have details or review about this evening.


1990, Mission Apollo: the French TV show

How awkward as it sounds, the French television filmed a TV special at the Apollo during the Third Gala of the Francophone Televisions Community (Communauté des Télévisions Francophones). French actor Richard Bohringer is the master of ceremony, where the only Harlemese artist you can spot is Cab Calloway. The other ones are francophone artists like Patricia Kaas, Guesch Patti, Mory Kante, Roch Voisine, Maurane, Vanessa Paradis, La Mano Negra, Stephan Eicher, Grace Jones, Ginette Reno, and Kassav. Archive footages also show Count Basie, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, etc.

1990 Mission Apollo TV French Cab Calloway marquee.jpg

The 90-mn show was aired on December 10, 1990 in France but we are not aware of the day it was taped.

Cab sings his disco version of Minnie the Moocher.


September 28, 1991, It’s Showtime at the Apollo

In an episode from the famous TV variety show aired in 1991 (Season 5, episode 3), Cab Calloway is the host (others were Whoopi Goldberg, Donna Summer...). Since it’s one of the last “live” TV appearances of Cab, his moves and singing are not the best testimonies of his talent.

Cab Calloway gently introduces (he has to read large cardboards) Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Keith Washington, ventriloquist Pete Michaels, and comic Andre Covington.


Cab is still having a ball doing his famous call and response with the Apollo audience
(other snippets are available via this channel)


1993, June 28: The master of the hepsters cancels, because of a broken hip.

In 1993, on June 28, Cab was supposed to sing and dance on the stage of the Apollo, but the show was canceled due to the broken hip. Cab slipped and fell at his White Plains home on June 5. Cab will only reappear publicly on October 4 for a dedication ceremony at the Cab Calloway School of the arts in Wilmington, DE. Then, all dressed up for his trip to Washington, DC, Cab Calloway received his Arts and Humanity Award from the hands of President Bill Clinton at the White House.



As you’ve seen along this 4-part series about Cab Calloway’s 57 years of performances at the Apollo, this historical venue has resonated many times with the “hi de ho’s”. From stardom to relegation, from renaissance to the old days, the Apollo and Cab spent many days and nights together, with only one goal: entertaining the audience.

If you’re lucky to go to the Apollo Theater someday, think of Cab Calloway and go to the lobby: you’ll see his face among a beautiful collage of artists. Cab will smile at you. And you will smile at him too.



  • Variety, New York Age, New York Amsterdam News…
  • Apollo Theater's website
  • “Showcase of Harlem”, Ebony, July 1949
  • Marv Goldberg’s website, Uncarmarvy, "The Apollo Theater Shows", 2019
  • Ralph Cooper, Amateur Night at the Apollo: Ralph Cooper Presents Five Decades of Great Entertainment, HarperCollins, 1990
  • Stephanie Stein Crease, Rhythm Man, Oxford University Press, 2023
  • Ted Fox, Showtime at the Apollo. 50 Years of Great Entertainment from Harlem's World-Famous Theatre, Quartet Books, 1985
  • Grant Harper Reid, Rhythm for Sale, self-published, 2013
  • Frank Schiffman, Uptown: The story of Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, Cowles Book Company, 1971


My deepest gratitude to my good friend (and rather fierce collector)
Keller Whalen for his help, support, and laughs

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