Forest Whitaker at Mandela Day
Standing outside of Radio City Music Hall along the red carpet, the stars kept coming. Will.I.Am, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Cyndi Lauper, Gloria Gaynor, Jesse McCartney, Josh Groban, Lil' Kim, Loyiso, Sipho Mabuse, Forest Whitaker, members of the Soweto Gospel Choir, Wyclef Jean and those were just the ones who didn't opt to skip the red carpet and enter Radio City via the back entrance.
Cyndi Lauper at Mandela Day
Those stars, joined by Alicia Keyes, Queen Latifa, Stevie Wonder, Morgan Freeman and various others had come to New York to honor Nelson Mandela on his birthday and to exhort everyone to give of themselves to support Mandela in his efforts to create a mass movement to service for our fellow human beings.
Just having these stars announce each other and perform would have made the night spectacular. What was being celebrated and how that inspired the lineup of megastars to give career best performances made the night a once in a lifetime event. A few performances stood out even on a night where each was special, but only in the way one rated a 10 out of 10 would stand out versus a 9.9 out of 10. Queen Latifa's rendition of "I know where I've been" reprising her singing the same tune in the movie "Hairspray" was as perfect an execution of any song that one is likely to see. I watched the version from "Hairspray" on YouTube a moment ago for comparison and while the "Hairspray" version was good, the rendition from Mandela Day was superhuman. When Ms. Latifa finished, the crowd clapped raucously and roared its approval.
Another of the standouts was the amazing duet of Cyndi Lauper and Lil' Kim performing Lauper's hit "Time after Time". I would never have thought of that combination but their voices sounded great together. I didn't want that song to end. I also have to say that after seeing her perform at Mandela Day I have come to understand the European fascination with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Still photos, as good as she looks in them, do not do someone like her justice. Before I get myself into trouble by continuing my description, I'll let this YouTube video do the rest of my talking for me regarding Madame Sarkozy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flmoa2dVOSU If I were the French, I would not expect President Sarkozy to be traveling much abroad, at least not without the first lady.
Even analyzing the performances doesn't do the night justice. There was a wild joy in the air and in the music that alternated with songs that brought back the melancholy and pain of the struggle for freedom and against apartheid by Mandela and the black population of South Africa. Rather than seeming discordant, this dichotomy of themes somehow fused synergistically and evoked powerful emotions in everyone in the crowd. Even the press corps, which tends to cover events somewhat stolidly and with professional detachment, was mostly standing up and dancing and cheering. This event is going to go down as the hot ticket of the year in New York if not the hot ticket of the decade. If the video is made into a DVD and sold, or the soundtrack is sold, look for either to sell in record numbers.
Mandela Day - Billie Jean King
I would be remiss in describing the gala if I didn't talk about some of the more serious themes that were the real point of the entire week's events including the concert. There are two numbers that are central to the themes. One is 46664 (pronounced four, double six, six four) which was Nelson Mandela's prison number when he was incarcerated on Robbens Island off South Africa. This number has been turned into a symbol of hope and an initiative to fight HIV/AIDS. The GALA concert is being continuously replayed at www.46664.com and the "about" section there talks about Mandela's global HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaign which Mandela started in 2002.
The other number is 67. Mandela has been fighting for freedom, justice and equality for South Africa and the world for 67 years, since 1942, and 27 of those years were spent in prison. What Mandela is trying to do is get as many people possible to commit to "making an 'imprint' " or to commit to making a difference by volunteering to help others for 67 minutes. It is amazing to me that at 91 years old and after giving up so much, Mandela is still working hard to make the world a better place. If he can do that and if he can deal with 27 years in prison and not be bitter or vengeful, I think the rest of us can give 67 minutes each. To sign up for your 67 minutes, go to http://www.mandeladay.com/