Star-stud­ded con­cert spe­cial less rock, more so­cial ac­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - ARTS & LIFE - By Randy Lewis

LOS AN­GE­LES — The idea wasn’t un­usual: Gather a bunch of rock, pop, R&B, coun­try and hip-hop stars for a con­cert high­light­ing an im­por­tant cause — in this case, racial strife across the U.S.

The re­sponse from the mu­sic com­mu­nity, how­ever, was any­thing but busi­ness as usual.

“I didn’t think quite hon­estly we could af­ford an­other Kum­baya mo­ment,” said Grammy-win­ning song­writer, singer and pro­ducer Phar­rell Wil­liams about the call he got to par­tic­i­pate in a con­cert for unity. “That’s not where the world is right now. The world needs ac­tion.”

The push-back by Wil­liams and sev­eral of his peers re­sulted in a con­cert and TV spe­cial that sig­nals an evo­lu­tion in the long history of pop mu­sic ben­e­fit con­certs — from a star-stud­ded spot­light on a sin­gle is­sue to a se­ri­ous ef­fort to ex­plore its roots and search for an­swers.

“I was a lit­tle skep­ti­cal of the con­cert,” popR&B singer-song­writer John Leg­end told the Los An­ge­les Times. “It’s not like artists of dif­fer­ent races don’t sing to­gether. We do that at all sorts of events… It’s not enough just to come to­gether and sing… For me it was really im­por­tant to go deeper.”

Those sen­ti­ments were echoed by other par­tic­i­pants in back-to-back spe­cials that aired Fri­day night on all six ca­ble chan­nels of A&E Net­works: the two-hour Shin­ing a Light: A Con­cert for Progress on Race in Amer­ica, filmed Wed­nes­day night in Los An­ge­les, and the hour-long Shin­ing a Light: Con­ver­sa­tions on Race in Amer­ica.

Or­ga­niz­ers and par­tic­i­pants in Shin­ing a Light trav­elled to Charleston, S.C.; Fer­gu­son, Mo.; and Bal­ti­more. They filmed mu­si­cal per­for­mances from epi­cen­tres of vi­o­lent episodes and then launched pub­lic di­a­logues in those com­mu­ni­ties aimed at heal­ing wounds and spark­ing cross- cul­tural un­der­stand­ing.

The first in­di­ca­tion that some­thing dif­fer­ent was up at Wed­nes­day’s tap­ing of the con­cert por­tion was that the stan­dard all-hands-on-deck mu­si­cal num­ber came not at the end but at the be­gin­ning.

Bruce Spring­steen, joined by Leg­end and Tom Morello, per­formed his 2001 song Amer­i­can Skin (41 Shots), which he wrote in re­sponse to the 1999 death of Guinea im­mi­grant Amadou Diallo, who was killed by po­lice in New York City. The choir be­hind them in­cluded Wil­liams, Sting, Smokey Robin­son, the Zac Brown Band, Pink, Ed Sheeran, Sia, Miguel, Aloe Blacc, Eric Church, Jamie Foxx, Tori Kelly, Jill Scott, Nick Jonas and Big Sean.

“The feel­ing among the mu­si­cians was that ideas that may have worked well in the 1960s and ’70s aren’t enough to­day,” said Ken Ehrlich, vet­eran pro­ducer of the an­nual Grammy Awards tele­cast who pro­duced the con­cert spe­cial.

Teams were dis­patched to Fer­gu­son, Charleston and Bal­ti­more to en­gage with sur­vivors, fam­ily mem­bers and friends of vic­tims of violence, as well as with mem­bers of law en­force­ment, lo­cal gov­ern­ments and other com­mu­nity lead­ers to ini­ti­ate what Leg­end re­ferred to as “dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions” about mat­ters of race in the U.S. in 2015.

“I went to Fer­gu­son, and to St. Louis, to talk to a range of peo­ple,” said the na­tive of Spring­field, Ohio.

Wil­liams was part of the crew that went to Charleston, where he sang his song Free­dom in the Emanuel AME Church. Af­ter tour­ing the slave quar­ters on a for­mer plan­ta­tion, Wil­liams said dur­ing his filmed seg­ment that the ex­pe­ri­ence un­nerved him.

A&E’s promo clip for the pro­gram be­gan, “Racism is real ... and we need to have a con­ver­sa­tion about it.”


Above, Bruce Spring­steen (left) and John Leg­end per­form at Shin­ing a Light: A Con­cert for Progress on Race in Amer­ica at the Shrine Au­di­to­rium in Los An­ge­les. Left, Sia raised her voice, even though no one could see her face.

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