PHILADELPHIA – Guthrie Ramsey, a University of Pennsylvania music professor, is co-curator of a new exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution called "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment.
"Presented by the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in collaboration with the Apollo Theater Foundation, the exhibition premiered in the NMAAHC Gallery in Washington, D.C., continues through Aug. 29. It will travel to Detroit in October and then on to New York in 2011.
The exhibition, which marks the 75th anniversary of the Apollo Theater in Harlem, gives visitors a glimpse into the lives of African-Americans in the 20th century through the prism of one-of-a-kind and rarely displayed artifacts, costumes, playbills, music scores, photographs and music recordings.
Ramsey and co-curator Tuliza Fleming of the museum acquired objects from private and publicly held collections at the African American Museum of Philadelphia, Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, Library of Congress, Museum of the City of New York, National Afro American Museum of Ohio, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
“To see something grow from my first visit to the Apollo Theater’s off -ite storage in upper Manhattan to an exhibition that has combined the efforts of designers and researchers and writers is pretty amazing," Ramsey said. "All of the musicians that I teach have played there. I felt secure about the history of it. What was new to me was that one could tell history though objects. As a musicologist, music is the object. But in this world, you can tell history in other ways.”
The collection includes Duke Ellington’s 1927 score for “Black and Tan Fantasy,” James Brown’s cape and jumpsuit, Michael Jackson’s 1984 “Victory Tour” black fedora, Louis Armstrong's Selmer Trumpet from Paris, Cab Calloway’s baton, Sammy Davis’ childhood tap shoes and LL Cool J’s jacket and hat.
“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” features introductory film and video alcoves to add to visitor's multimedia experience. Exhibition panels chronologically tell the story of the theater’s development from a racially segregated burlesque house to one of the first theaters in New York -- and the country -- to fully integrate, welcoming African- American, Hispanic and local immigrants in the audience and headlining talented entertainers who couldn't perform in other venues.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, http://nmaahc.si.edu, is housed in the National Museum of American History, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W., in Washington.