CeeLo Green, We McDonald, Charlie Wilson & Sheila E Share the Apollo Stage For Theater's Annual Spring Gala

CeeLo Green performs during the Apollo Spring Gala 2017 at The Apollo Theater on June 12, 2017 in New York City.
 Shahar Azran/WireImage

CeeLo Green performs during the Apollo Spring Gala 2017 at The Apollo Theater on June 12, 2017 in New York City. 

Burgeoning talents and legends alike took to the stage at the Apollo Theater’s 12th Annual Spring Gala on Monday, June 12.

Each year, the event aims to raise funds for the non-profit organization’s year-round education and community programs. Over $2 million was collected thanks to generous donors at the start of the ceremony, and continued to grow steadily throughout the night. Host Cedric The Entertainer introduced the night’s honorees and performers, in addition to providing his distinctive brand of comedy, keeping smiles on the packed audience’s faces.

To kick off the show, CeeLo Green, sang his Gnarls Barkley hit “Crazy,” with assistance from four-time Apollo “Amateur Night” winner and The Voice contestant, Wé McDonald. Later on in the show, the 18-year-old McDonald brought the crowd to their feet with a hauntingly powerful rendition of Nina Simone’s “Feelin’ Good,” as well as a snappy version of Barbra Streisand’s “Don’t Rain On My Parade.” “I definitely like to switch things up and do some special things [on stage],” the New Jersey native told Billboard on the red carpet about her performance.

Green, who said before the event that he was planning on a more "simple" performance, stayed true to his self-proclaimed moniker “The Soul Machine,” and kept it groovy with his song “Fool for You.” New Orleans' Trombone Shorty brought pure artistry and musicianship with a show-stopping rendition of “Here Come The Girls.”

Legendary drummer Sheila E proved she doesn’t need any gimmicks to keep a crowd engaged -- just a drum set in the middle of the legendary Apollo stage. She performed Santana’s rockin’ version of Tito Puentes’ “Oye Como Va,” as well as her own 1984 hit “The Glamorous Life,” the latter of which came equipped with a guitarist tearing the house down with an electrifying solo.

To close out the night, R&B sensation Charlie Wilson had the crowd on their feet from start to finish, bringing endless amounts of energy to his timeless Gap Band hits, like “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” “Yearning For Your Love,” and “Outstanding.”

“It started to come about organically,” says the gala’s producer, Kamilah Forbes, on the selection process of the night’s entertainers. “With CeeLo, [The Apollo will] be developing a musical earlier this season based around his music, and we’re so thrilled he accepted our offer to perform. Then, we always honor legends. Sheila E and Charlie Wilson rose to the top, Trombone Shorty is that new voice that we love, plus Wé McDonald has been part of our family from the beginning.”

The guests of honor included Rose Kirk, Verizon Foundation’s Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer & President. The telecommunications company was honored with the Corporate Award. Through Verizon Innovative Learning, the company spent $25 billion to supply underprivileged communities with the hands-on tools necessary to help them succeed in the digital age.

Legendary producer and director Stan Lathan was recognized for his work in the media industry by receiving the Trailblazer Award. From Sesame Street to The Waltons to Dave Chappelle’s recent Netflix specials, Lathan has been an influential figure in the media world for decades.

“[Lathan] blazed the trail in terms of people of color behind-the-scenes,” said his actress daughter Sanaa in a pre-recorded video. Business partner Russell Simmons stated in the video that Lathan has always “carried himself with dignity.” On the red carpet before the event, the Def Comedy Jam creator said that he was honored to receive the award.

“It’s a little overwhelming!” he chuckled in response to what it meant to be seen as a “trailblazer." "It took me a while to figure out what being a 'trailblazer' was, but I’ve reflected on what I’ve done, and I think there may be a connection there. I do believe that I’ve done a lot of things over the course of my career that a lot of people haven’t. It feels really great to even be aware of that.”

“I hope I can show young people of color that life is tough, but you gotta be tougher,” Lathan said later that night while accepting his award. “We need art to help reverse [America’s current] madness."

Many of the night’s guests discussed that The Apollo Theater is paramount to Harlem’s history, and that the black community must do everything they can to preserve its legacy. “The Apollo is a landmark, it might as well be preserved as a museum at some point, as a resource for entertainment history,” said legendary tap dancer Savion Glover, who has graced the Apollo stage on numerous occasions. "There’s not many foundations or institutions or theaters that have the same infrastructure as far as the entertainment aspect and history goes. It’s important not only for the generations to come, but also for the generations that have passed through."

“So many great artists have been through this building,” said “Uncle” Charlie Wilson on what The Apollo means to him. “It’s a beautiful thing to come here, to fundraise, to do anything to keep this building alive. It’s our history, we need to keep The Apollo going forever. It should never fall apart. Too many legends have come through.”


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