Unleashing the Spotlight on Extraordinary Talents.

Usher Lives Out a Childhood Dream at the Apollo

Usher, an eight-time Grammy winner, has won many awards in his 30-year career. But the one he received on Tuesday night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem was special, he said.

“It’s the prestige,” said the R&B singer, who arrived in a black S.U.V. surrounded by phone-wielding fans to the red carpet outside the theater, which was celebrating its 90th birthday at its annual spring benefit.

Along with Babyface, Usher was at the Apollo, which opened in 1934 and has played host to numerous venerated musicians including Billie Holiday, James Brown and Aretha Franklin, for a celebratory concert and an awards ceremony. He and Babyface, the singer-songwriter and producer who has won 12 Grammy Awards, received Icon and Legacy awards from the organization, respectively, for their contributions to music.

Gov. Kathy Hochul; the Rev. Al Sharpton; Jordin Sparks, the singer and “American Idol” winner; Ava DuVernay; the filmmaker and screenwriter; and Big Daddy Kane, the rapper, were among the more than 800 musicians, philanthropists and elected officials who filled the 1,500-seat theater.

The gala, which raised $3 million for the organization, the largest African American performing arts presenting group in the country, comes at a critical time for the theater, which later this year will embark on a major project to fully renovate its 110-year-old building. Plans include new lighting and audio systems, additional seating, updates to the building’s exterior, along with a new lobby cafe and bar that will be open to the public.

(The main theater will be closed during at least part of the renovation, but programming will be presented at the Victoria theaters down the street, a pair of performance spaces with a combined seating capacity of nearly 300.)

“It will be restoring what we love and have cherished for nine decades, and then modernized,” said Michelle Ebanks, the Apollo’s president and chief executive, who assumed the role just under a year ago.

Excitement for that future was apparent Tuesday night. A crowd that included the R&B singer Karyn White, the Tony-nominated Broadway actress Kara Young and the comedian and actress Kym Whitley, the evening’s host, began the night posing for cameras on the red carpet, in floral gowns, sparkling clutches and gold-rimmed sunglasses.

Ms. Sparks, who wore a pink floral gown, said she was overwhelmed by the opportunity to perform on such a historic stage.

“I’m just really grateful to be following in the footsteps of so many incredible people that have been here before,” she said.

Ms. Whitley, in a glimmering black pantsuit, admitted to some preshow jitters. “The people that have come through these doors, that’s what scares me,” she said.

Around 7:15 p.m., the crowd funneled into the theater for the concert and awards presentation. Ms. Sparks kicked things off with a medley of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.”

Ms. Hochul then presented the Apollo with a 90-year anniversary plaque. “This is the heart and soul of Harlem culture, of Black culture, of American culture,” she said, to roaring applause.

But it was a choreographed dance tribute to Usher that got the crowd moving. Performing a medley of songs that included “Yeah!,” “Burn” and “Confessions Part II,” around three dozen dancers dressed in white filled the aisles as Usher, seated next to his wife, Jennifer Goicoechea, smiled and bobbed his head in appreciation.

As the R&B singer accepted his award onstage, he rubbed the Apollo’s famous Tree of Hope, a stump of an elm tree that stood outside the Lafayette Theater on Seventh Avenue until 1934 — and is believed to bring performers good luck.

Addressing the crowd, Usher, in a burgundy suit, a shimmering silver choker and white boots, recalled watching “Showtime at the Apollo,” the televised amateur talent show, with his late grandmother when he was growing up in Tennessee.

“I remember thinking, ‘Man, someday I’m going to make it to that stage,’ and ‘Hopefully one day, I’ll get a standing ovation,’” the musician said. (The audience, who was indeed standing, applauded.)

But not every performer had that kind of lifelong confidence. Babyface, the evening’s other award recipient, was astonished as he accepted the inaugural Legacy award from the rapper Fat Joe and the investor Kwanza Jones, both of whom are former winners of the Apollo’s Amateur Night, the weekly talent show for novice performers.

“I just never saw myself as being on the Apollo stage,” said Babyface, who had been inducted into the theater’s walk of fame at a ceremony the day before. “I was always the guy behind the scenes and writing songs for everyone else. I am just in awe to be considered as part of this.”

A series of singers performed a 20-minute musical tribute to Babyface featuring some of the most well-known songs he has written and produced. Ms. White performed her single “Superwoman,” and the musician Johnny Gill sang “My, My, My.”

And then a surprise.

“Oh my God, Babyface is going to perform!” one woman in the audience yelled as the musician, wearing a white suit over a white turtleneck and snakeskin boots, his eyes hidden behind gold-rimmed sunglasses, walked onstage.

Around 9:30 p.m., after Babyface closed the show with “Whip Appeal,” attendees joined a second-line procession to an after-party about a block away under a tent outside the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building.

Waiters floated around the room with trays of small bites like miniature tacos, and people lounged on yellow couches, munching on plates of braised short ribs and chicken from Charles Pan-Fried Chicken.

Partygoers stepped onto a black-and-white-checked dance floor and danced under a rotating gold disco ball to sets by the D.J. D-Nice. Under a canopy of red neon lights, he played funk and soul hits like “Nasty Girl” by Vanity 6 and “It’s a Love Thing” by The Whispers.

Guests took photos in front of a neon letter “A” and sipped turmeric-ginger lemon mules and vanilla espresso martinis.

The celebration continued until around midnight. The evening, Ms. White said, had been “incredible.”

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