Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What Legends Are Made Of

Oprah Winfrey knows how to party. And when she does, she's going to put her all into it. Such was the case when she decided to pull together a list of twenty-five legendary African-American women in the fields of entertainment, civil rights and art for a very special event of a lifetime. The plan: to organize a Legends Ball uniting both the legends with superstars highly influenced by their contributions. The end result was sheer brilliance. And unforgettable.

Winfrey and her Harpo staff taped the festivities which included an unforgettable luncheon, a glamorous white-tie ball and a heart-busting gospel brunch to close the schedule of events. And if you missed the feature presentation on Monday, we are very sorry to hear of that. Really.

The twenty-five legends honored were Maya Angelou, Shirley Caesar, Diahann Carroll, Elizabeth Catlett, Ruby Dee, Katherine Dunham, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Nikki Giovanni, Dorothy Height, Lena Horne, Coretta Scott King, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Toni Morrison, Rosa Parks, Leontyne Price, Della Reese, Diana Ross, Naomi Sims, Tina Turner, Cicely Tyson, Alice Walker, Dionne Warwick and Nancy Wilson. Nice list, aint it.

The historic weekend began Friday with a private luncheon at Oprah's Montecito home where the "legends" were greeted by the "young'uns" -- acclaimed stars, including Alicia Keys, Ashanti, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Mary J. Blige, Brandy, Naomi Campbell, Kathleen Battle, Yolanda Adams, Mariah Carey, Natalie Cole, Kimberly Elise, Missy Elliott, Tyra Banks, Iman, Janet Jackson, Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen and Alfre Woodard, among others. Throughout the weekend, the "young'uns" paid homage to the "legends" for their great contributions. World-renowned event planner Colin Cowie attended to every detail, and Grammy Award-winner John Legend performed his hit song, "Ordinary People." Of course, any of the legends could have sung a song and would have turned the celebration into a revival, but John Legend's appearance allowed the legends to sit back and enjoy the moment while he serenaded them with his trademark anthem.

On Saturday night, it was an elegant white-tie Legends Ball with notable guests, including Sidney Poitier, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Usher, Barbra Streisand, James Brolin, Lionel Richie, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Diane Sawyer, Smokey Robinson, Mike Nichols, Maria Shriver, Chris Tucker, Barbara Walters, Quincy Jones, Spike Lee, Senator Barack Obama and Tyler Perry, among many others. A prolific poem was read as the "young-ins" took the stage to once again celebrate the achievements of the legends. Then, it was dancing time...with music from Michael McDonald, Ashford & Simpson, BeBe Winans and many others.

The finale of the Legends weekend was Sunday's exuberant gospel brunch. And what a way to close out the memorable occasion. Denetria Champ, with her Aretha Franklin-influenced pipes, kicked things off with a spirited selection from her recent album. Then BeBe Winans lead a dynamic arrangement of Donnie McClurkin's "Stand". But the service lifted to a glorious, soaring segment of rich devotion when Edwin, Walter and Lynette Hawkins pulled out the all-time favorite "Changed". BeBe Winans walked into the audience and extended the microphone to the legends - and the rest was divine. Shirley Caesar wrecked the song with her preaching style of ad-libs, then Dionne Warwick revealed a smooth ad-lib that amazed almost everyone present. Never before had we heard Warwick sing a song of faith like this. Yolanda Adams also sung a good portion, while Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight offered up a good deal of spiritual dynamics. But it was the acclaimed Chaka Khan that had everyone, from Ashanti to Mariah Carey, from Shirley Caesar to Walter Hawkins himself, lifting hands in mighty worship to God.

We are extra-positive that this will calm down Oprah's haters in the church for a while. At least, we hope so. Regardless of what happens, Oprah is also a legend. And for her to honor those that opened doors not only for her, but for all African-Americans and minorities, is a beautiful and humble thing. One of her strongest quotes she delivered was: "And still, this wasn't enough...they deserve so much more". That clearly speaks volumes of respect, gratitude and passion for such trailblazers. We seriously pray this event is re-televised again...or makes its way to DVD in a full-length form. It was just that good. Oprah's Legends Ball - two thumbs way up!

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