Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Apollo Spring Benefit honors Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sean’ Diddy’ Combs, reveals expansion plans

The 2023 annual Apollo Spring Benefit came at a special time for the world-famous Harlem theater. While honoring luminaries like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Sean “Diddy” Combs, featuring performances from Wyclef Jean and Gladys Knight, plans for the facilities expansion were revealed to attendees. 

The annual benefit takes place every June to raise funds for various programs, performances, and initiatives at the Apollo Theater and its non-profit organization. Abdul-Jabbar and Combs, both Harlem natives, were honored at the event. 

Abdul-Jabbar, an NBA Hall of Famer, was honored for his contributions as a basketball player, social activist and education advocate. Academy Award-winner Spike Lee presented the Impact Award to Abdul-Jabbar. “Cap, you’re a shining example of what it is to be an exceptional human being,” Lee said of the NBA veteran. 

2023 Apollo Spring Benefit
Wyclef Jean attends the “2023 Apollo Spring Benefit” on June 12, 2023, at The Apollo Theater in New York City. (Photo by Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images)

Combs, the entertainment mogul and entrepreneur, received the inaugural Icon Award. BET executive Scott Mills presented the honor to Combs, recognizing him for his efforts as a philanthropist and founder of Capital Prep school. Three seniors from Capital Prep school joined Mills, announcing 100% of the class received college acceptances.

Travel issues prevented the “All About the Benjamins” rapper from attending the event but he sent a video thanking the Apollo Theater and commending the area for being one of the last remaining places that retained “the true essence of Harlem.” 

The benefit also honored outgoing Apollo Theater President and CEO Jonelle Procope, who is stepping down after 20 years. As she leaves, she does so while beginning the process of transforming The Apollo Theater into a performing arts center. The old Victoria Theater space will hold two new theaters. This is Apollo’s first massive renovation in 89 years, with an expanded lobby and retail store. 

The benefit featured musical performances led by musical director Ray Chew. MC Lyte performed “Cha Cha Cha” with Ray Chew’s band, while Jean performed “Maria Maria” with guitar in hand. Knight sang two songs toward the end of the night, her classics “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.” 

DJ D-Nice served as the event’s host and ended the night with the band’s abbreviated Club Quarantine set, playing songs like Teena Marie’s “Square Biz” and Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do” in tandem. MC Lyte returned to perform with D-Nice, rapping her hits, including “Roughneck” and “Paper Thin.” Jean also joined D-Nice and the band with Fugees hits “Ready or Not” and “Killing Me Softly.”

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