New York’s Apollo Theater cards will auction in May

The Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York has nurtured the careers of some of America’s biggest black performers.

Legendary promoter Frank Schiffman brought some of the top names in music and comedy from the underground to the mainstream – everyone from Count Basie to Richard Pryor.

Apollo cards James

These cards feature notes on James Brown's performances at the Apollo 

The Apollo was famously open to black performers and patrons from the 1930s onward, a rarity for a major venue at the time.

It ran as a normal concert hall, except on Wednesdays, when it operated a brutal variety show format - a tradition that continues to this day.

An “executioner” waits in the wings to remove any act that doesn’t meet audience approval.

Some of those who ran the gauntlet became huge stars. 

From 1946 onwards, Schiffman started to take notes on the performances of the acts that passed through.

Now a selection of those note cards is selling at GWS Auctions in Agoura Hills, California.

Among the highlights are Schiffman’s thoughts on soul diva Aretha Franklin’s performances between 1957 and 1971 (valued at $35,000-40,000).

He writes variously: "The best ever in this house” and "Had many ideas for production but changed her mind and stayed mostly with her thing."

Of James Brown ($40,000-50,000) he writes: “Has strange ideas for presenting himself but goes well with audience. Has improved in the costume department.”

This is a rare opportunity for collectors to acquire these cards.

Most of Schiffman’s collection (including 1,200 of these notes) is housed in the Smithsonian.

The sale will take place on May 27 and will also feature one of Elvis Presley’s private jets.

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