Lizzo, Sylvia Rhone, Jermaine Dupri & More Honored by Black Music Action Coalition via MSN
Story by Gail Mitchell
Lizzo, Sylvia Rhone, Jermaine Dupri & More Honored by Black Music Action Coalition© Provided by Billboard
The Black Music Action Coalition's (BMAC) third annual awards gala was an evening brimming with surprises, emotion, insights and inspiration. Held on Thursday night (Sept. 21) at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif., the artists and executives being honored all shared a singular trait: activists working to affect positive change and improve equity within the industry and their communities.
It was fitting, then, that the evening began with a special tribute to Clarence Avant, lovingly referred to as "The Black Godfather." A member of BMAC's advisory board - along with Quincy Jones and Irving Azoff - Avant passed away on Aug. 13. His legacy as a staunch advocate for diversity and equity was referenced throughout the event by presenters and honorees.
"He's the essence of why we're gathered here today," said BMAC co-founder/chair Willie "Prophet" Stiggers of Avant before introducing a musical tribute to the trailblazer. Backed by the 1500 or Nothin' band, BJ the Chicago Kid, Chanté Moore and Luke James performed Bill Withers' (signed to Avant's Sussex Records) "Grandma's Hands," "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lovely Day," respectively. Then James and Moore teamed up on Alexander O'Neal & Cherrelle's "Saturday Love" and O'Neal's "Fake" (both released on Avant's Tabu Records).
Setting off the parade of surprises, emotional moments and multiple standing ovations was the first award presentation to Epic Records chairwoman and CEO Sylvia Rhone. The surprise presenter of Rhone's honor, the BMAC Clarence Avant Trailblazer Award, was her daughter, Quinn.
"Nobody surprises me like this," said an astonished Rhone as she simultaneously accepted the award and hugged her daughter. "This is so special to be in a room of people I've worked with for years. We came up together. I have great gratitude for BMAC and this award, named after my friend and inspiration, the legendary Clarence Avant. I've been up , down and I've survived. You're only as good as the people you work with. At Epic, 56.6% of the team are women and 57.1% of the team are people of color. I don't play around with that; it's a constant for me. Creativity and inclusion are the lifeblood of culture and this business."
Also receiving the Clarence Avant award - from his longtime creative collaborators Johntá Austin and Bryan-Michael Cox, was songwriter/producer and So So Def CEO Jermaine Dupri, who is celebrating the label's 30thanniversary this year. Noting that he'd been with ASCAP at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. the night before, Dupri prefaced his acceptance speech with his thoughts about AI.
"I don't f–k with AI; it will take the emotion out of music if we allow that to happen," Dupri said to hearty applause. "And when people can take our words and voices and do what they want without getting our consent … I need everybody to stand up and make sure that doesn't happen." He then noted, "It don't matter how you dress. It don't matter how you talk … if people decide to f–k with you, they'll f–k with you. That's what Clarence represents. And I hope you all understand that that's me. All I've ever been trying to do is help people."
The gala's final award presentation was a stirring one: Lizzo receiving the BMAC Quincy Jones Humanitarian Award by the Big Grrrls from her Emmy-winning reality show, Watch Out For the Big Grrrls. Just hours before, the "About Damn Time" singer was hit with the latest lawsuit accusing the Grammy winner of creating a hostile workplace by turning a blind eye to toxic and abusive behavior by several members of her touring team. It's the second such lawsuit in two months, alleging sexual and racial harassment.
Before Lizzo came onstage, one of the cast members spoke about her being the "first person to ever believe in us, show us love and believe in our talent and our craft." Another said, "When we found out Lizzo was being honored, we knew that we had to be here. This has always been somebody that gives back. She cares deeply. She loves with her whole heart … she put in the work to get to this moment."
After stepping onstage to accept the statuette, an emotional Lizzo said, "BMAC thank you because I needed this right now. God's timing is always on time! I've been blessed to receive a lot of incredible awards. But this one truly hits different because humanitarianism is selfless. And to be kind to someone isn't a talent. Everyone can do it. It's a gift that you give. In all my years of activism and outreach, I have witnessed at the core of every organization, every movement, every march is just people helping people. And they do it every damn day. I get to come in, help and go back to my life as a musician. These people are still helping people because they've dedicated their lives to service. And they don't get awards; they don't get a round of applause. Because of that, I've dedicated my life and decided to share my platform to shine a light on those people. Because I so badly want to live in a world where we award goodness with our attention."
Lizzo further shared that she donated a quarter of a million dollars in June to several Black-led organizations dedicated to helping Black youth, Black women, the Black queer/Black trans communities. To applause and shouts, she went on to name the organizations, which included the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, Black Girls Smile, Sphinx Organization, Save Our Sisters and a scholarship partnership with the University of Houston.
"It's easy to do the right thing when everybody's watching you," Lizzo continued. "But it's what you do in those moments where nobody's watching that defines who you are. I'm going to continue to be who I am, no matter who's watching. I'm going to continue to amplify the voices of marginalized people because I have a microphone and I know how to use it. And I'm going to continue to put on, represent and create safe spaces for Black fat women because that's what the f–k I do! My family's here, Nice Life is here … the Big Grrrls. This support right now means the world to me."
Among the evening's other salutes, the BMAC Social Impact Award was shared by three honorees: actress/singer-songwriter Keke Palmer, Dr. Menna Demessie, senior vp at Universal Music Group and executive director of its Task Force for Meaningful Change, and Emmy-winning producer Jesse Collins. The BMAC Change Agent Award was given to Jason Flom, co-founder and CEO of Lava for Good, and rapper/activist Trae tha Truth. Rolling Loud co-founders Tariq Cherif and Matt Zingler were honored with the BMAC 365 Award.
Kenny Burns served as the gala's host. Among the celebrities spotted in the ballroom were LL Cool J, Public Enemy's Flavor Flav, rapper/singer Doechii and Muhammad Ali's daughter, Khaliah Ali. Ali presented the award to Flom, her fellow advocate for people wrongfully imprisoned and their significant others.
The 2023 BMAC Gala was presented by Live Nation and produced by Primary Wave and Jesse Collins Entertainment. In addition to Stiggers, BMAC's board members include Caron Veazey, Ashaunna Ayars, Naima Cochrane, Jamil Davis, Shawn Holiday, Damien Smith and Courtney Stewart.
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