On Monday afternoon (June 13), Harlem turned 50 shades of purple as New York City’s Apollo Theater hosted the late icon Prince‘s induction into the Walk of Fame. Purple accessories and balloons adorned the street as purple Converse sneakers, dresses and wigs made up the event’s dress code. A glimmering star for Prince decorated the 125th street sidewalk adjacent to the theater as vendors tried to sell Prince memorabilia.
“This is probably the most challenging induction ceremony we’ve done to date,” said Apollo Theater president and CEO Jonelle Procope, who was clad in a black ensemble with a lacy purple scarf. “How does any one best capture Prince? How does anyone capture the brilliance, artistry, that uniqueness? Prince was one of a kind. Bold. Prolific. A musical genius, rule breaker, trendsetter and innovator. Before the Apollo’s tribute to Prince, Procope requested a moment of silence for the victims of the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, which took the lives of 49 people and injured 53 more.
Famed jazz musician Maceo Parker, R&B songstress Meli’sa Morgan, Prince’s protégé singer Andy Allo, and his renowned band The New Power Generation were all present with the induction. Draped in a purple maxi dress, Morgan performed the famed Prince song “Do Me, Baby,” a Hot 100-charting cover that kickstarted her career in 1986.
Morgan later revealed on the red carpet to Billboard that she was more than honored to perform the song, but when presented with the idea back in the early ’80s, she wasn’t so sure if she could perform the provocative track. “I was like ‘I can’t sing this, my father is going to kill me,'” she recalled, noting that she eventually received her dad’s blessing. “He was like, ‘Go sing the heck out of it.'”
In addition to the Prince festivities, Monday marked the Apollo’s 11th annual spring gala, which raised $1.7 million to support its year-round artistic and community programming initiatives, according to gala co-chair Carolyn Minick Mason. This year, Viacom was also honored with the Corporate Award for Community Leadership.
During his acceptance speech, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman credited the Apollo for being a stepping-stone for many African-American musicians. “The Apollo has nurtured the most prominent voices of African-American culture,” he said. “For up-and-coming artists around the world, the Apollo is the symbol of hitting it big. This theater has launched the careers of iconic and influential performers from Gladys Knight to Lauryn Hill and I’ll date myself to one of my favorites, Billie Holiday.”
The gala was hosted by LL Cool J and musically directed by famed musician Ray Chew. The night was loaded with stellar performances from “Rise Up” songbird Andra Day, soul singer Leon Bridges, French dance duo Les Twins and famed R&B group The O’Jays. Les Twins took the stage first with a dance routine to a mix of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River,” and Usher’s “I Care For You.” Next up was Leon Bridges who swayed on stage with a guitar for a performance of “Mustang Sally.”
Then came Andra Day’s stellar performance of the uplifting anthem “City Burns.” Host LL also joined DJ D-Nice for a special tribute to one of 2016’s other fallen legends, Phife Dawg of Queens hip-hop collective A Tribe Called Quest. The O’Jays also delivered a nostalgic rendition of 1978’s “Use Ta Be My Girl.” Midway through their performance, the group, decked out in white ensembles, saluted those killed and wounded in Orlando’s recent shooting attack. “Orlando, get on the love train,” they said before launching into their 1972 hit “Love Train.”
The night was a celebration of love and unity, especially with the induction ceremony for icon Prince. Allo, Prince’s protégé, fought back tears during her speech as she recalled the Purple One’s impact on her life. “I do hope that he sees this star as a way of showing him appreciation for all that he did,” she offered. “He taught me how to challenge myself. I am the woman and the artist that I am today because of him.”
Procope added, “Prince is probably the greatest example of what every artist dreams of, to have the freedom to artistically express themselves and still be lauded for their individuality and talent.”