BWW Reviews: Marian Anderson Awards Concert for Berry Gordy Kimmel Center
On November 19, at Philadelphia's KimMel Center, Philadelphia, the Motor City, and Broadway celebrated the life and work of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy as he was presented with the 15th Marian Anderson Award. The Award, the conception of then-Philadelphia mayor, former Governor of Pennsylvania Edward Rendell, is presented annually to a prominent artist whose artistic or other work has contributed significantly to society or to urgent causes. Prior recipients have included Elizabeth Taylor, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Norman Lear, and Harry Belafonte. The award is named for African-American contralto (very likely the finest contralto of the 20th Century) Marian Anderson, a Philadelphia resident, who was famously denied the right to perform at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC in 1939 because of her race. Miss Anderson's Easter concert that year, performed at the government's invitation at the Lincoln Memorial, drew 75,000 people and was nationally broadcast, reaching millions more than her intended performance would have.
Gordy's tribute concert was interspersed with videos of his career, of Rendell's founding of the Awards, and of the young artists of all backgrounds who are supported by grants made possible by the Marian Anderson Awards. Master of ceremonies for the evening was comedian Chris Tucker. Tucker, who noted immediately that "Philadelphia is a music town", presented a lineup of Motown and other artists, many from Philadelphia or with Philadelphia connections, who performed and shared stories of Gordy's impact on their lives and their work. Artists performing and speaking in Berry's honor included Philadelphia native, recording artist and Broadway performer (THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, THE LION KING) Cody Wise; the bands Kool & the Gang and Philadelphian Motown recording artists Boyz II Men; Brandon Vincent Dixon, currently playing Gordy on Broadway in MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL; songsmiths and creators of the Philadelphia Sound, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff; and legendary performer and Motown artist Smokey Robinson. Music direction for the evening was by triple Emmy winner, composer/keyboardist Bill Jolly.
Wise kicked off the music for the evening with a medley of Gordy hits including the first great Motown hit, "Money (That's What I Want)" and "You've Made Me So Very Happy". Wise's performance owed more than a touch to some of the great jazz vocalists such as Sarah Vaughan as well as to the great Motown groups of the 1960's and 1970's. As he noted to the audience, "I wouldn't be here without the music of Motown."
Of Boyz II Men, Tucker noted that "they're part of Motown history, but they're rooted in Philadelphia." The group performed "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday", "Water Runs Dry," and "End of the Road" to a highly receptive hometown audience. The group's tribute to Gordy included their proclamation of him, perhaps rightly, as "the most important name in music."