Jumping forward a generation, Gary Kelly’s musical career began in 1970 with the Detroit-based Chairmen of the Board (famous for such songs as 1969’s “Give Me Just a Little More Time”). With them, Kelly performed at the Apollo several times and returned to perform with Edwin Starr and, then, The Originals.

“Each stint was 7 days, from Wednesday to the next Tuesday, with three shows per day, four shows on Saturday and Sunday, each with 5 or 6 acts,” says Kelly. The first time he performed at the Apollo, his brother, Rod, who was the drummer for Chairmen of the Board, warned him about the crowd. This caused a good deal of nervousness in Kelly, but that was tempered with the veteran confidence of having performed on the road before. Regardless, the significance of the theater was not lost. “You paid your dues at the Apollo.”


Photo of Edwin Starr with Gary Kelly on organ courtesy of Gary Kelly

Gary Kelly shares the sentiment with Henry Hopkins that the Apollo was a place of certification. “You were not official until you did the Apollo,” Kelly states, while Hopkins observes that the Apollo “provided a place for national recognition” that no other place could match.

Both men also highlighted the fact that the Apollo was just as important for up-and-comers as it was for established entertainers. Hopkins reminds us that Ella Fitzgerald earned much fame for performing at the Apollo and winning one of the theater’s earliest Amateur Nights. Kelly marked that while rivalries existed backstage, there also were opportunities for learning and mentoring relationships.

Through a time period spanning 30 years, qualities of the Apollo remain the same: national significance, a chance for new talent to shine, and the ability to give anyone star power. Undoubtedly, these stay true to this day and through every story left to tell.