President Barack Obama tonight will go where no sitting president has ever gone before: the landmark Apollo Theater in Harlem.
Obama will join the singers Al Green, India.Arie and more than 1,400 supporters who doled out between $100 and $5,000 per ticket to the fundraiser at the legendary theater. A number of $25,000 VIP tickets were also available for what organizers reported is a sold-out event.
"We're excited," said Chet Whye of Harlem4Obama. "We really wanted an opportunity for people in Harlem to see the president and we got it."
The Apollo is an intimate venue much smaller than many might expect from years of watching stars and amateurs parading across the stage on the once-syndicated television talent show "Showtime at the Apollo." And it's much smaller than many venues in which the president routinely appears.
"People won't have to look down a football field to see the president,” Whye added. "They can see him and feel him. And he will get the Apollo treatment, but I don't expect the sandman to come on stage at any point during the event."
But neighborhood folks could still expect a few sour notes amid all the good music and vibes being made during the president's visit. The last time the president was in Harlem, some were left with hurt feelings and wounded pride.
In March of last year, Obama made his first trip to Harlem since becoming president, holding a $38,800-a-person fundraiser at celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson's popular Red Rooster restaurant. The president afterward attended an invitation-only reception at the Studio Museum in Harlem.
"This is more than ridiculous," Vincent Mindo, a 23-year-old retail worker protesting American military action in Libya outside of the event, told DNAinfo last year. "You have people that make $25,000 a year in this neighborhood and he's eating off of a $30,000 plate."
And while no one expects "Sandman Sims" to tap dance across the stage with his hook and grimace, a group from Occupy Harlem and a conglomerate of activist groups are planning to protest the event.
"Die heart Obama supporters bully, threaten and berate those who hold the President accountable for ANYTHING most of all his lies to and betrayal of the 99%!," read a press release from Occupy Harlem organizer Nellie Hester Bailey. "The military industrial complex and Wall Street oligarchy owns lock, stock and barrel the US Presidency, Congress and both political parties, Democrat and Republican!"
According to reports, the president was scheduled to arrive at John F. Kennedy airport around 3:30 p.m., with plans to spend the afternoon and early evening making the rounds of celebrities and other big-timers, including an intimate affair with director Spike Lee, his wife Tonya Lee Lewis and 45 guests at their Upper East Side brownstone. The going rate for that event is a reported $35,800.
Obama was also expected to attend two events with Jewish leaders, a $5,000 to $25,000 meet-and-greet and another event with tickets sold at $15,000 a head.
Harlem has shown tremendous love for Obama in the past, the neighborhood exploding like many other largely African-American communities in jubilation when he was elected in 2008.
"I believe that the president, what he represents to this community and the way he is viewed in this community [are] extremely important to him," said Clyde Williams, who served as an advisor to President Bill Clinton, and whose wife, Mona Sutphin, was an advisor to Obama before leaving the White House last year.
"I believe that when any sitting president -- particularly the first African-American president -- comes up to this community, it's always a big deal. I know he is well-received and well-liked. People are glad when he's here," said Williams, who is considering a run for Congress this year in Harlem's 15th Congressional District.
Whye said volunteers with Harlem4Obama will be outside of the event, canvassing for signatures to officially put Obama on the ballot in New York for the 2012 presidential election.
Brian Benjamin, who sits on the president's National Finance Committee, said this time around, it was doubly important to make sure as many people as possible could join in the event.
"This is more affordable and assessable to residents in Harlem, compared to a $35,000 dinner at Red Rooster," Benjamin said. "We're talking about $100 to $500 a ticket to be at the Apollo with the president and Al Green and India.Arie. For some folks that are grassroots -- those that will go out and get signatures and go knocking on doors -- that kind of experience, for people to sit on the front row and see their president, is a big deal."