Harlem's Apollo Theater Honors 'King Of Pop'

Harlem's Apollo Theater held a tribute to Michael Jackson Tuesday. The theater admitted 600 people at a time for a series of tribute videos and eulogies. DJs played Jackson's music throughout the day and fans left flowers and other tokens.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Today, Michael Jackson fans are again expected to fill Harlem's Apollo Theater for a public memorial that began yesterday when, as NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, fans endured lousy weather to pay tribute to Jackson.

NEDA ULABY: First, the heat of a blazing afternoon sun had fans wilting as they waited in a line barely inching past dozens of city storefronts. They waved handmade posters saying We Miss You and Michael Rest In Peace. Then the skies darkened, then they opened, and everyone got drenched, but no one left.

Ms. DENISE MARIE: You see that? It's dedication. Only Mike could have this.

ULABY: Forty-year-old Denise Marie and her son Zale Perch(ph), who's seven, stood in line for four hours. Now they're huddling under a tiny umbrella that barely covers them both.

You're a beautiful family and you're all dripping wet.

Ms. MARIE: Yes, and we are staying, we are not moving, we are going through the storm for Michael and his family.

ULABY: Little Zale Perch sang a song he made up for Michael Jackson on the spot.

Mr. ZALE PERCH: (Singing) Michael…

(Soundbite of humming)

ULABY: Inside the nice dry theater, praise continued from the Reverend Al Sharpton. Speaking on the Apollo stage, he said Harlem's overwhelming support for Jackson stemmed from sympathy at how he was treated by an unsympathetic press, who focused unfairly on his foibles.

Reverend AL SHARPTON (Civil Rights Activist): Now they're trying to interpret Michael to us. But you've got to come from the stage of the Apollo and go all over the world to understand Michael. We understand his journey 'cause we was with him every step of the way.

ULABY: Sharpton's speech rang true to 28-year-old Joshua Sutherland, who left the Apollo in tears. He said a chunk of him died when Michael Jackson died, and it's up to him to keep a chunk of him living.

Mr. JOSHUA SUTHERLAND: Anything I do, I incorporate a little bit of Mike into it, a little bit of M.J.

ULABY: Sutherland shared a frequently-voiced opinion among fans there in Harlem that Jackson was a victim, that the charges of child molestation were trumped up and his oddities were secondary to his music. Sutherland said the memorial was worth the wait.

Mr. SUTHERLAND: Standing on that line, it was like I was waiting for a Michael Jackson concert. You know, it was great. It was like the most wonderful-est feeling. I'm glad to be a part of it. Today I took out of work and school. Yes, I definitely had to be here because I will always remember this.

ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News, New York.

MONTAGNE: And there are photos and stories about Michael Jackson at the music section of NPR.org.

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Apollo Holds Tribute To Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson: Full NPR Music Archive

It's been an ongoing street wake since Thursday under the Apollo Theater's big red art deco sign, now flashing the words, "In Memory of Michael Jackson, a True Apollo Legend."

In 1967, a young Michael Jackson, not yet 9 years old, packed into a beat-up old Volkswagen with his father and brothers, and set off from their home in Indiana for New York City. Their destination? Harlem's storied Apollo Theater, where the Jackson 5 won the amateur night contest.

Jackson wasn't quite an Apollo legend in the manner of Ella Fitzgerald or James Brown. But the New York City theater is one of the country's most significant landmarks of African-American culture. And the Apollo is now honoring Jackson's life with a two-day memorial service that started Tuesday afternoon.

Friends Evannah Johnson and Lateefah Jones, both 18, are among the first in line. They say they've been camped out since Monday, and that they haven't slept or eaten.

Johnson says she shares a crush on young Michael with her mother. But she never had the illusion that his was a happy life.

"Him dying is better for him because he had a very stressful and hard life, so I guess he's out of his pain and misery," she says.

Well, not that it was exactly better for him to die.

"No! Not that," Johnson says. "But just that, from hearing all the things about him not having a childhood and working his whole life, I think he was tired."

A blisteringly hot afternoon did not dissuade hundreds upon hundreds of fans, who crowded behind blue police barricades. Umbrellas were up, coolers were open and men like Richard Powell stripped off their vintage M.J. T-shirts in an attempt to cool down. Powell drove from North Carolina to this memorial.

It's telling that most of the Michael Jackson pictures seen on the posters, pins and key chains peddled by Monica Yvonne Jones mostly show the star as a child.

"You know, they was really kids then," she says. "And as they started getting older, their life started changing. I guess it's for the better. This is what they want."

She says the Jacksons felt like her own family growing up, when a black family on national TV was rare. But that didn't stop the street vendor from expressing a dash of pragmatism.

"He's dead," she says. "He gonna make more money, and he's still popular. He's dead."

I made a mistake and asked how much Jackson paraphernalia Jones has sold since Thursday.

"I don't consider it paraphernalia," she says. "It's memories. It's love. You call it what you want. I call it $3."

Later this month, the Apollo Theater will hold another Jackson memorial, a concert teeming with stars. Unlike today's memorial, that one will not be free.

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