By Dwight Brown
NNPA Entertainment Critic
Kahn follows in the footsteps of Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and other world-renown musicians who have graced the stage of the 79-year-old theater and been inducted into its Hall of Fame. The ceremony is the crown jewel of a gala fundraising effort that benefits the theater’s education initiatives and community programs.
The evening on June 10 started with two less publicized awards, the Corporate Award went to Time Warner, that curiously also happened to be the top sponsor of the event. Sara Jessica Parker presented the trophy to Jeff Bewkes, Chairman & CEO. The Percy E. Sutton Leadership Award was given to Lisa Price, who started Carols Daughter, a multimillion-dollar beauty business, with $100 and a homemade lotion recipe in her Brooklyn kitchen.
However, the evening didn’t find its footing until the host Wayne Brady took center stage and the honoree, Chaka Kahn, found her seat in a balcony. She sat regally as Brady flirted with her and introduced diva after diva who sang her praises and songs. Kahn has released 22 albums, garnered 22 Grammy-nominations and 10 Grammy Awards. If you’re going to fete someone, she is the one.
Jennifer Holiday, the original Dreamgirl, started the night off with her rendition of Through the Fire. Her notes seemed a bit creaky at first, but as she found her bearings, she growled out the lyrics like a show-stopping singer.
Brady introduced the next artist with a reverence fit for royalty, and mentioned that she was the last guest he had on his ill-fated TV show. He thanked her for holding his hand through the process. Apollo Hall of Fame legend Patti Labelle entered in a powder blue satin jacket, with bright red satin pants and blue shoes. At age 69, you wonder if she still has that voice? You’re expecting her to blare, instead she purred through a lesser-known but thoroughly sweet and appropriate song written by Kahn and Bruce Hornsby called Love Me Still: “Here is my hand for you to hold. Here’s the part of me they have not sold. I’ve wandered far, I’ve had my fill. I need you now, do you love me still.” It was the night’s most touching moment, and yes Patti still has it!
Alexandra Burke, winner of Britain’s X Factor TV show, as Brady so sensitively put it, “The X Factor show that people actually watch,” versus the U.S. one on FOX. She shimmied and shaked her way through Do You Like How You Feel. Clad in a mini dress that left nothing to the imagination, Burke channeled Beyoncé, Tina Turner and Chaka. After she stalked off the stage, Brady commented, “Good thing tonight is a charity event, we have to raise money for the rest of her dress!” The audience roared.
Homegirl Mary J. Blige was a vision in tight pants and a body-hugging top. She sang Sweet Thing, and commented on how she had to be talked into putting it on one of her albums, because she didn’t want to be disrespectable to Chaka. Clips and photos of Chaka’s life and career flashed on a screen in center stage. Performances with Rufus, shots of her as a kid, a teen and a solo artist, interspersed with footage of her mom talking about her talented daughter, added depth to the evening. Then Erykah Badu presented the Hall of Fame award to Kahn.
“Tapping pure emotion is the reason for my longevity. I’m honest. I can’t lie,” said Kahn. The crowd gave her a standing ovation.
Wayne Brady, out to show everyone he was more than a comedian, host and TV personality, tried his hand at Tell Me Something Good. And he was shockingly good. He gave the song a little funk, reggae and he even rapped. Deborah Cox, who wrestled Ain’t Nobody to the ground with her strong vocals, rendered a very soulful performance.
Brady promised that the singers would come out for a grand finale. Burke, Holiday and Cox came on stage and sang I’m Every Woman. They raised the roof, almost like a gospel choir sending the congregation home with a touch of the Holy Spirit. Blige and Labelle were noticeably absent. Kahn, who was having much-publicized issues with her voice, did not sing a note.
It was around one hour and a half into the evening, and the event was over. Over way to quickly for a legend who deserved a three hour soiree. The audience deserved the same.
Visit entertainment writer Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.