On Jan. 26, 1934, Hurtig & Seamon's New Burlesque Theater in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City reopened as a lavish new venue known as The Apollo Theater. Beyond its lavish redesign, the Apollo was now open to Black patrons, having previously been a whites-only space - and this groundbreaking change helped usher in new generations of performers. There may be no greater success story of the Apollo than James Brown, who recorded multiple groundbreaking albums from the theater's stage.
By the time the Godfather of Soul came to the Apollo on Oct. 24, 1962, he was a proven success on the soul charts, with eight Top 10 hits to his name like "Try Me," "Lost Someone" and "Night Train." And his popularity among crowds of color - particularly on the so-called "chitlin circuit" of segregated Midwestern and Southern clubs in America - was undeniable. But Brown wanted to prove to everyone that his powerful concerts and disciplined backing band, The Famous Flames, could stand toe to toe with any musicians out there.
He pitched the idea of a live album to label King Records, who immediately turned the idea down. "How can you be doing something every night and sell it on a record?" label head Syd Nathan reportedly asked. So Brown funded the recording himself, taping the second-to-last of a weeklong engagement at the Apollo. When a half-hour from the show was released simply as Live At The Apollo in the spring of 1963, audiences went haywire. Radio stations began playing the album in its entirety - pausing for commercials between sides - and Brown, who'd never had an LP appear on any chart, suddenly found Live At The Apollo on the Billboard chart for 66 weeks, eventually peaking at No. 2.
Brown would record multiple live albums at the Apollo during his fabled career, including releases in 1968, 1971 and 1995. A 1968 performance there was also filmed for television as James Brown: Man to Man. To this day, if you're looking to be ready for "Star Time," it's Brown's visits to the Apollo that are required listening.