Legendary soul singers Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle performed their biggest hits in front of an estimated crowd of 2,500 people at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday during a World AIDS Day celebration sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
“I have two purposes here,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Jamie Harrison. “I am here to celebrate World AIDS Day and I know that the fight against the disease is continuing and with the help of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, we will win this battle. But I am also here to listen to Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight, two of my favorite singers.”
Harold Phillips, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, said 38 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide, including 1.2 million Americans. However, he, like Harrison, made note of the two Grammy-winning entertainers.
“We are going to hear from two incredible voices tonight,” Phillips said. “They believe in the improving the health of the community. We are going to celebrate tonight but get back to work tomorrow.”
Knight, dressed in black, performed first. She constantly walked from one side of the stage to the other holding the microphone. When she appeared, people immediately pulled out their smartphones to record her performance.
During her 45-minute show, Knight belted out “Keep on Keeping On,” “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” “Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “On and On.” Knight was accompanied by a band and three female backup singers dressed in black who sat in chairs while she sang. She closed out her performance with her signature hit “Midnight Train to Georgia” and thunderous applause.
LaBelle came on stage about 25 minutes later. LaBelle entered through the back of the stage dressed wearing a red outfit and immediately started singing “Love, Need and Want You” with its well-known stanza “You can always count on my love forevermore.”
She then sang “If Only You Knew.” She then reverted to a gospel song but got back on the rhythm and blues track with “Right Kind of Lover” and the smash hit “Lady Marmalade,” with many members of the audience dancing in their seats and in the aisles.
Jeff Canady, a D.C. political activist, said he wasn’t going to miss Knight and LaBelle performing.
“These are two of my favorite entertainers and they are supporting a cause that I care about,” Canady said.