Brooks' Bunch chaperone Marcus Vance rubs the Hope Tree log for good luck before his performance at the Apollo
During their first two days in New York City, Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks and his group of traveling students had gone up the Empire State Building, visited the Statue of Liberty, hit Broadway, toured the NFL's main offices and attended a lecture at the Fashion Institute, to name a few stops. It was on Day Three, however, that the 'Brooks' Bunch 2003 and Beyond' tour turned into 'Showtime at the Apollo.'
Now, an Evening at the Apollo usually involves performers of varying ability in front of a raucous Saturday night crowd, but Brooks' crew put on more of an Afternoon at the Apollo, and the audience was supportive throughout the show.
During a tour of the famous Apollo Theatre, several talented young members of the Brooks' Bunch were urged to take the stage by tour guide Billy Mitchell. Cheered on by the rest of the 29 student travelers, Cyndi Bailey, Alicia Hall, Janaris Ponds and chaperone Marcus Vance all put on a show. Mitchell, serving as the impromptu emcee, brought the crowd to tears with hilarious introductions of the future stars.
Vance was first on the stage, performing a moving and soulful rendition of the Stevie Wonder classic Ribbon in the Sky. Vance's performance was so outstanding that the audience of 45 trip members burst into a standing ovation.
Next on the stage were Bailey, who dreams of a career as an opera singer, and Hall, with the latter performing The Star Spangled Banner and the former Four Page Letter by Alicia Keys. The young ladies' performances were also worthy of a standing ovation.
"I was very nervous when I first got up there," said Hall. "It's something I really want to do and anyone that I admire I've seen up on that stage, so it was really nerve-wracking. But now I can tell everybody that I sang at the Apollo.
"And hopefully when I become a star they'll burn that tape."
The last act of Brooks' Bunch wasn't nervous, but wasn't quite as thorough as his predecessors. Fourteen year-old Janaris Ponds (a.k.a. Lemon Fresh) recited his four-line rap titled Warn A Brother.
Ponds rubbed the famous Hope Tree log for luck, and his courage to get up and perform on the Apollo stage more than made up for his rather brief performance.
Day Three in New York was dedicated to the arts from the beginning, as it began with a tour of the Julliard School of Arts in the morning. At Julliard, which admits one student for every 100 that auditions, the travelers met some students, toured the main building and were treated to an ensemble jazz performance that included a baby grand piano, a stand-up bass and a soprano saxophone.
The Apollo tour followed and the students learned about the history of the theatre, all of the famous stars that had performed there (Otis Redding, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck and Stevie Wonder, to name a few), how amateur night got started and the closing and re-opening of the Apollo.
Lunch was had at the World Famous Sylvia's in Harlem, where the Bunch dined on fried chicken, barbecued ribs, fried fish, rice, potato salad, collard greens, corn bread, peach cobbler and red velvet cake. All agreed: an exceptional meal prepared by exceptional cooks.
A bus tour of Harlem was next on the agenda. During the ride, the students drove down Sugar Hill and heard about the history of the area, the most accomplished Harlemites and the background of the famous Rucker Park basketball courts.
The tour of Harlem brought the Brooks' Bunch time in New York to an end, as the next stop was the airport and a flight to the Windy City.
Arriving in Chicago 45 minutes early, thanks to a pilot with a lead foot, the group trekked to Ed Debevic's for a different sort of dining experience. Based on the old 50's and 60's diners, Debevic's has waiters and waitresses dressed up as Elvis impersonators and wearing poodle skirts. At various points, the Stainless Steel Dancers (a.k.a. the waiters and waitresses) jumped on top of the bar and danced to songs such as Shake Your Groove Thang and Car Wash.
"That was crazy, it was wild, especially the lady with the high squeaky voice," said Hall. "I've never been to a restaurant like that before."
After dinner, the group was shuttled to Loyola University, where they get their first real taste of the college experience by staying in the school's dorms. The students seemed to adjust to the surroundings quickly, behaving like typical college students by hanging in the hallways and congregating in the lounge areas.
It was a long day for the Brooks' Bunch, perhaps one that will launch the careers of several future stars. A whole new set of experiences in a whole new city awaited the group on Wednesday, including visits to Harpo Studios, Wrigley Field and the Second City Comedy Club. Stay tuned.