Jonelle Procope, president of the Apollo Theater Foundation Inc., remembers getting hooked as a teenager on Stevie Wonder classics like “Living for the City” and “Superstition.”
“Then there’s songs like ‘Fingertips’ that he performed on the Apollo stage when he broke onto the scene,” said Procope, also the venue’s chief executive officer, in a telephone interview. “You can now hear vendors on 125th Street playing Stevie Wonder’s music, and you often hear ‘Fingertips.’”
Procope has the enviable job of throwing the ultimate Stevie Wonder party. The foundation’s spring gala tonight at the Apollo will honor the singer-songwriter’s five-decade career.
The 61-year-old blind artist will join Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, James Brown and Aretha Franklin as an inductee into the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame.
The evening, hosted by comedian Sinbad, will include a concert and an after-party. It will feature performances by Wonder and guest appearances by Haiti-born songwriter Wyclef Jean; rhythm-and-blues vocalists Melanie Fiona and Raphael Saadiq; and Grammy Award-winning jazz piano legend Chick Corea. About a dozen surprise guests will perform Wonder hits.
“I have to pinch myself,” Procope said. “I can’t tell you how excited we are to have Stevie here. We’ve all grown up on his music.”
The gala, which she said will raise more than $1.2 million, will also honor cosmetics giant Revlon with its Corporate Award for its support of women’s issues and its fundraising for breast-cancer research. Ronald O. Perelman, the Apollo’s board chairman and chief executive of Revlon Inc. parent Rev Holdings LLC, will accept the award.
Philanthropist and Booz Allen Hamilton executive vice president Reginald Van Lee will be honored with the Percy E. Sutton Civic Leadership Award for his support of the Apollo. In addition, Procope will announce the establishment of the Reginald Van Lee New Works Fund for concerts and other new programming thanks to what she calls a “significant gift” from a donor she declined to identify by name.
“When I became the president of the Apollo eight years ago, one of my first calls was to Reggie, who helped the leadership team think about how you shape the Apollo,” Procope said. “Our accomplishments of the last five years are a result of Reggie sitting with us.”
(The Apollo’s 2011 Spring Gala is at 7 tonight at the Apollo Theater, 253 W. 125th St. in Manhattan. Tickets are $250 for the show only or $500 and $1,250 with after-party access. Information: +1-212-380-8946 http://www.apollotheater.org/all/details/98-2011-spring-gala)