Amateur Night History and Legacy

I told them the rules: "If you like the performer, cheer. You know how to cheer, don't you?" And the audience let out a roar that rattled windows all over Harlem."

- Ralph Cooper
"Amateur Night at the Apollo"

Ralph Cooper, an actor and producer, started the original Harlem Amateur Hour in April 1933 at Frank Schiffman's Lafayette Theater. In 1934, Cooper began the Wednesday Amateur Night at Sidney Cohen and Morris Sussman's 125th Street Apollo Theatre. Cooper's Amateur Night in Harlem radio shows were broadcast live from the Apollo over WMCA and carried on a national network of 21 stations. When Amateur Night at the Apollo debuted in 1934, it quickly became the leading showcase for many young, talented, new performers such as a 15-year-old Ella Fitzgerald, who went on to become one of the first Amateur Night winners.

Amateur Night at the Apollo celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2009 as the quintessential talent competition, serving as the model for Star Search and American Idol. Competitions are held nearly every Wednesday evening throughout the year, culminating with the "Super Top Dog" competition. The show marries world-class talent with a distinctive, vaudeville-like atmosphere, and has depended on audience participation since the very beginning. The popularity contest has proven an effective measure of star potential, becoming a launch pad for some of the nation's greatest entertainers.