The Apollo's 85th Anniversary and Its Passionate Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes

May 21, 2019

Kamilah Forbes has had an amazing career in the Arts and has been Executive Producer for the Apollo since 2016
Credit Doug Doyle for WBGO

The first major expansion of The Apollo in Harlem is underway, part of the iconic theater's 85th anniversary season. 

The Apollo's Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes spoke with WBGO News Director Doug Doyle about the expansion and the upcoming show Twisted Melodies, a powerful one-man show based on the life of ’70s soul singer and composer Donny Hathaway.

The non-profit is expanding with a new theater, The Victoria, and becoming the Apollo Performing Arts Center.

Forbes, an award-winning director and producer and graduate of Howard University, says she's been thrilled to be working at the Apollo since 2016.

"The Apollo is at a really exciting inflection point.  Although we've been around for 85 years, we've been a non-profit since 2001 and consistently programming since 2012.  So there is a new Apollo that's been in construction, on the horizon in the midst of where we are right now as this new era of what the Apollo means as a performing arts center as a non-profit institution, as a mission=driven institution.  A mission driven around what does it means to be a creative cultivator of black culture, innovation and creativity.  To be a mission-driven place for that is a new space for the Apollo.  It's a different model."

The Apollo's 85th Anniversary season ends with "Twisted Melodies"
Credit The Apollo

Twisted Melodies, which runs from May 30 through June 2, is an Apollo co-production with Baltimore Center Stage and Congo Square Theatere Company, in association with the Mosaic Theater Company in Washington, D.C.

"It's a really exciting ride.  And Kelvin (Roston Jr.) who is not only the performer but also the writer and his collaborator Derrick Sanders, the director, have really built an insightful, thoughtful, passion-filled piece of work that really asks a lot of questions and exposes a very important conversation that we don't talk about a lot in our community, mental illness.  We also get a peak into the brilliance and the genius that was Donny Hathaway and an opportunity to experience his music again."

While Kamilah Forbes' family originally hails from Jamaica, shes was born and raised in Chicago where she saw her first musical Once on This Island.

Kamilah Forbes with WBGO's News Director Doug Doyle
Credit Fatima Jones for WBGO

Years later, she was majoring in pre-med at Howard University, she surprised her parents by telling them she was changing her major to theater and that she wanted to be an actress.  They were not happy about Kamilah's new path at first, but that tough decision has led to an amazing career that includes leading the Hip-Hop Theater Festival for 16 years and being the Associate Director for Broaway's revival A Raisin in the Sun and The Wiz Live on NBC.

She has also produced several works for both television and theater, most notably the seven­season Peabody Award-winning series Russell Simmons presents Def Poetry on HBO.  She was also a co-­executive producer on the Brave New Voices documentary series on HBO, in addition to executive-producing the most recent PBS special The Women’s List.

Forbes has been involved with so many different music genres and admits her Spotify playlist is all over the place.

"What drives me is this idea of, I'm constantly curious of what's new, what else's is out in the world, how else can I be inspired?"

Speaking of music, The Temptations will become part of the Apollo's Walk of Fame on June 7 with a special ceremony. 

When Forbes hear the world "Apollo" what does she say?  Kamilah didn't hesitate and responded "pride."  She recalls seeing the Apollo for the first time when she came to Harlem in 2001.

"It was a really magical moment, just seeing it, being that close in proximinity to what I consider the capital of Black America, Harlem, and to have this beacon of culture, The Apollo is right there at my fingertips, it was amazing.

Click above to hear the entire interview with Kamilah Forbes.