20 July 2009
Some of the world’s top musical talent gathered in New York on Saturday night, 18 July 2009, to put on a three-hour spectacle celebrating Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday and life as well as the launch of the Mandela Day initiative.
Putting on a string of incredible performances at New York’s Radio City Music Hall to officially launch the Mandela Day initiative were Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Chris Chameleon, Will.i.am, Jesse Clegg, Gloria Gaynor, Dave Stewart, Aretha Franklin, the Soweto Gospel Choir, Wyclef Jean, Cyndi Lauper, Queen Latifah, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Josh Groban, Angelique Kidjo, Freshlyground, Baaba Maal, Jesse McCartney, Loyiso, Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Vusi Mahlasela, Thandiswa Mazwai, Lil’ Kim, and Suzanna Owiyo
The campaign is supported by the Nelson Mandela charities as well as a number of other philanthropists and charitable organisations, and encourages people to continue Mandela’s legacy by “making an imprint” and getting involved in their own communities – ultimately creating a better world for all.
In short, Mandela Day celebrates the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world, the ability to make an imprint.
Presented by Paul Gambaccini, assisted by a host of Hollywood stars, the inaugural Mandela Day concert played to a sold-out and enthusiastic audience at Radio City Music Hall.
New Yorkers turn out for Mandela
“I really like Jesse McCartney,” said concert-goer Natasha Levy, “and we really support Nelson Mandela. We don’t like discrimination. All people are equal irrespective of their skin colour or religion.”
“I just came to support Nelson Mandela,” said Steven McMillan. “He’s done so much.”
“He’s a great humanitarian,” added BJ Frazier.
“We saw the adverts in the paper and we thought it looked really interesting,” said Rainer Nurnberger and his wife, Chantel. “We really like what Nelson Mandela stands for, and we’re very excited to be here. It’s wonderful to be participating in this.”
‘The world’s classiest man’
Actress Whoopi Goldberg introduced the concert, thanking the audience for attending such an important event.
“You turned out to support the world’s classiest man. Happy 91st birthday, Mr Mandela,” Goldberg said, before explaining what 46664 does and the significance of Mandela Day.
“46664 is a charity to continue Nelson Mandela’s work, in particular, his fight against HIV/Aids,” she said.
If Mandela could tackle the world’s problems, so could we, she pointed out, explaining the message behind Mandela Day, which is for each and every person to contribute to the creation of a just society.
“Make Mandela Day an annual part of your life and your country’s life,” she said.
Following performances by the African artists performing Eddy Grant’s “Give Me Hope Joanna”, Gloria Gaynor and Yvonne Chaka Chaka, who was joined onstage by her son Themba, US President Barack Obama spoke to the audience.
Message from Obama
Speaking via video, Obama spoke about how he had been inspired by Nelson Mandela and how it was time for people to take up the challenges the world still faces.
“This,” Obama said, “is the greatest gift that we can give this great man.”
After performances from Will.i.am, Lil’ Kim and Cyndi Lauper performing a version of “Time After Time”, Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse and Suzanna Owiyo introduced actor Forest Whitaker, who in turn introduced Dave Stewart.
Whitaker thanked Stewart for all his hard work in helping the 46664 charity before Stewart and Cala Bruni-Sarkozy performed together.
The show’s next act, Jesse McCartney, spoke about the impact that Mandela had not only on his own generation, but on every generation.
“He hasn’t only inspired his contemporaries,” McCartney said, “he’s a multi-generational inspiration. Sixty-seven years he’s put in, let’s put in 67 minutes and see what we can do.”
Message from Mandela
Actor Morgan Freeman was next on stage. Freeman spoke about Mandela’s life in prison, and how Mandela had not sought revenge for his incarceration, before introducing a the surprise of the evening – a video message to the audience from Mandela.
“We are humbled by the call to create a Mandela Day,” Mandela said. “It is not a holiday, instead it is a day dedicated to service. We thank you for participating in Mandela Day,” he said to rapturous applause.
“I honour to honour Mandela Day every year,” said Freeman, “and I hope you will too.”
After performances by actor and singer Queen Latifah, Chris Chameleon, and Baaba Maal performing the Mandela Day theme tune “With My Own Two Hands”, Zucchero introduced Billie Jean King, who in turn introduced Josh Groban, telling the audience how Groban’s meeting with Madiba had inspired him to raise over US$2-million for needy children.
‘You Raise Me Up’
Groban performed a track on his own before Vusi Mahlasela joined him on stage to perform “Weeping”. Mahlasela then performed “When You Come Back”, before Loyiso and then Thandiswa Mazwai graced the stage.
Actor Tim Robbins introduced Wyclef Jean, hailing him as someone who had adopted the selfless attitude and commitment to helping his community that was the message of Mandela Day.
Jean was followed by Jesse Clegg, who together with Freshlyground performed “Asimbonanga”.
Radio host Tom Joynor introduced Aretha Franklin, who was joined on stage by Groban to perform “You Raise Me Up”.
Actor Susan Sarandon introduced Alicia Keys and Angelique Kidjo, who were followed by the Soweto Gospel Choir, before Stevie Wonder became the last artist to be part of the inaugural Mandela Day concert.
Wonder was joined on stage by the entire cast, who sang Happy Birthday, bringing down the curtain on what was described by 46664’s head of content, Cosmo Caddy, as a “fantastic success”.