“Disco is the best floor show in town. It’s very democratic, boys with boys, girls with girls, girls with boys, blacks and whites, capitalists and Marxists, Chinese and everything else, all in one big mix.”*…
Yolanda Baker has been making disco balls every week of her life for nearly 50 years and shows no signs of slowing down.
Baker, known as Yo Yo to her colleagues, works for Louisville’s Omega National Products – America’s leading disco ball manufacturer – and has over the years filed orders for Beyoncé, Madonna, Studio 54 and even the Saturday Night Fever film set.
During the height of disco fever, Omega had 25 workers crafting 25 balls a day – more than 160,000 disco balls annually – with Baker steering the ship. But as China began flooding the market with cheaper options, the team at Omega began to shrink – Baker has been the company’s only disco ball maker since 2008…
All that glitters at: “Meet Yolanda ‘Yo Yo’ Baker, America’s last disco ball maker.”
* Truman Capote
As we boogey on down, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that the famous Apollo theatre in New York City’s Harlem district (re-)opened as a showcase for black artists. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, it had been built in 1913-14 as Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater, and designed by George Keister in the neo-Classical style. The Apollo fell on hard times in the 20s and limped along until, under new management, it became (starting on this date in 1934) a mecca of the Swing Era. It featured musical acts including Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Webb, and Count Basie, dance acts such as Bill Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers. And though the theater concentrated on showcasing African-American acts, it also presented such white performers as Harry James, Woody Herman and Charlie Barnet during the swing era, and, later, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz and Buddy Rich, who was a particular favorite of the Apollo crowd.
The Apollo’s “Amateur Night,” a Monday-night talent contest launched many storied careers, from Ella Fitzgerald and Thelma Carpenter to Jimi Hendrix (who won in 1964). Others whose careers were hatched or given an early boost at the Apollo include Billie Holiday, Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown & The Famous Flames, King Curtis, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Parliament-Funkadelic, Wilson Pickett, The Miracles, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Rush Brown, Stephanie Mills, Dionne Warwick, Bobby Short, The Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, Mariah Carey, The Isley Brothers, Lauryn Hill, Sarah Vaughan, Jazmine Sullivan, Ne-Yo, and Machine Gun Kelly.
Restored 11 years ago, the venue draws an estimated 1.3 million visitors a year.