Recording artist and philantropist Alicia Keys hosted her annual Black Ball for the Alicia Keys Foundation, which helps children with AIDS and HIV in Africa and India, last night at the Apollo. The event, called Black Ball Redux, was originally supposed to take place Thursday, November 1, 2012, but was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy. Though Beyonce, originally slated to be on the bill for the event, was unable to perform for the scheduled makeup date, the night was filled with a lot of excitement, information about the needs in Africa, as well as great music.
The highlight of the nonmusical part of the evening was Alicia Keys introducing Oprah Winfrey, who she called an inspiration to her. “It’s a universal truth, Oprah makes change happen,” Keys said when talking about the Oprah. Once introduced, Winfrey talked about many entertainers launching charities, but recalled seeing something special in Alicia, and gave the organization some financial support in its infancy. “I’ve known this girl was on fire for a while now,” Oprah said, with a play on words to Alicia’s current hit. “You try to keep a child alive and I try to educate them as best as I can,” Winfrey said, alluding to her school in South Africa, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.
The musical highlight was a duet between Keys and legend Bonnie Raitt on the country star’s smash hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” It was a spectacular performance with lots of emotion with the live band playing the perfect companion to the voices and Keys playing the piano. It was not the first time the PAIR have performed together, as they also did a tribute to Etta James at the Grammys earlier this year. Keys performed her hits “Girl On Fire” and “New Day” to close the show.
Earlier in the evening, Jennifer Hudson performed “Angel” with Alicia Keys playing piano. Angélique Kidjo was honored with an award, then later took the stage to perform African songs. Keys danced on stage and performed a duet with Kidjo to end her set. Brittany Howard of the Alamba Shakes also performed.
The first half of the show was hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, who entertained the crowd with her humor. As the auction was set to begin, and the audience was instructed on where to get the paddles, Goldberg interrupted with “I read ’50 Shades of Grey’ so I stay away from paddles,” to the delight of the crowd.
During the auction portion of the program, one man was willing to increase his bid for a trip to South Africa if Alicia Keys attended as well. “I’ll go for a little more” Alicia Keys challenged, and the challenge was answered. The man, Stewart Rahr, a billionaire in the pharmaceuticals industry, later pledged $1 million to the charity.
On a personal note, a highlight for me was running into one of my brothers from my college days at New York University, City Councilman Eric Gioia. We have spoken via email, but not in person for quite some time, so it was nice to see him, and finally meet his wife, Mrs. Lisa Hernandez Gioia for the first time. She actually sits on the board for the Alicia Keys Foundation, so if I do not run into him again, I can look forward to our annual meeting at an amazing event.