ESSENCE.com Managing Editor Emil Wilbekin was in the house at the Apollo Theater's 75th Anniversary Gala and explains why it was a night he'll never forget.
Last night marked the 75th anniversary of the Apollo Theater and an emotional trip down memory lane for me. At the star-studded Gala on 125th Street in Harlem, I laughed, clapped, Tweeted and danced in the aisle. The most brilliant moment (and there were many) was when Prince took the stage to introduce Mariah Carey who would in turn induct her "God Mother" Patti LaBelle into the Hall of Fame. Come on, Prince, Mariah and Patti all on the same stage is beyond a musical dream.
But it was Prince who truly stole the show. "Prince just walked up the stairs," my friend whispered in my ear. "Where?" I said like a teenager, my eyes fixed on the balcony. I Tweeted: Prince Rogers Nelson is in the building. Then Jamie Foxx came out on stage. He was introducing Fantasia to the crowd of VIPs ranging from Gayle King to Susan Taylor, Rev. Al Sharpton to Cathy Hughes. During his remarks Foxx even asked Denise Rich if Prince was there. Crickets. Nobody responded.
Like an explosion, Fantasia, sporting a short black bobbed hairdo, charged the platform, kicking off her shoes and singing at the top of her lungs. Wearing a short cream sequin minidress, she wowed the audience. Leaping off the stage, Fantasia ran up and down the aisles singing a soulful rendition of "Purple Rain." The audience gave a standing ovation. Still, no Prince.
Finally, when the awards show was almost finished, out of the theater's darkness, his royal highness magically appeared. Prince, wearing a mustard silk two piece pajama set with matching boots, simply strolled to centerstage, walking with a bling-bling cane and wearing brown shades. I Tweeted: Prince just rolled on stage with SWAGGER like what..." I'm not one to be starstruck...but err, rah.
After Prince, Mariah and Patti exited stage right, the evening's host, Steve Harvey, re-entered. Harvey said he needed to "punk out for a minute." He told us how "Adore" was he and his wife's favorite song. Then the comedian and New York Times best-selling author started singing "Adore." Are you kidding me? He then cued the band on stage to play the music and had the audience in unison singing "Adore." Harvey explained that Prince wasn't even scheduled to be at the event. But, in true Prince fashion, when Patti told him she was being honored, he wanted to support her.
Prince not only was there for Patti, he was there to give props to a cultural institution that is the Apollo Theater. It wasn't enough that Bill and Camille Cosby, Quincy Jones, and others were being honored. It was a New York City moment. As the Apollo's motto states, this is the place "Where stars are born and legends made." Last night it was also a place where celebrity dreams came true. This is moment I will never forget.
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