The National Museum of African American Music kicked off Black Music Month by celebrating legendary musicians and industry giants during the fifth annual Celebration of Legends Gala at War Memorial Auditorium. “A legend is someone who has had an impact for many years, someone who inspires us, someone who has been active in their community and made a difference in the world even beyond their music and that’s how we define it,” explained NMAAM President/CEO Henry Beecher Hicks III.

NMAAM Legends Celebration

The annual event celebrates African American music and the trailblazers that have made an impact and helped to craft America’s soundtrack.

This year’s honorees of the “Rhapsody & Rhythm” awards included “Uncle” Charlie Wilson, CHIC founder, producer, guitarist Nile Rodgers, Blues star and NMAAM National Chair Keb’ Mo, gospel great Yolanda Adams, and music manager, producer Mona Scott-Young.

To tribute these amazing artists, the lineup included Anthony Hamilton, who put his soulful stamp on Keb’ Mo’s “Am I Wrong.” “Keb’ Mo’ is an incredible man, an incredible father, and a great Blues guy, and I can’t wait to do this for him,” Hamilton said before his performance.

Anthony Hamilton (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

Keb’ Mo’
(photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

BeBe Winans, Tamia, and Avery Sunshine took the audience to church with their tribute to Yolanda Adams. “I am a part of the Yolanda Adams tribute and she has inspired me so much over the years. Music is such an amazing thing, it touches the soul, it speaks heart to heart, and it’s very important to just give them their roses,” said Tamia.

Avery Sunshine (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

Tamia and Yolanda Adams (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

Mint Condition front man, Stokley Williams was a part of the Charlie Wilson tribute and got the crowd moving with his rendition of the Gap Band’s “Yearning for Your Love.”

Stokley Williams (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

Stokley said Wilson’s career has impacted him in becoming part of the soundtrack to his life.   “Charlie Wilson for me is so many things because his group, his voice was so distinctive in my upbringing, from junior high to roller skating days, it just set the tone. Music is one of those things that set the tone, it’s like your soundtrack. Musically he set the world on fire, he’s just amazing. There’s no one like him,” said Stokley. “His voice has always touched me in a way. He’s giving the younger generation a lot of information so that we can just continue that legacy.”

Johnny Gill lit the stage on fire with his rendition of “Outstanding,” and got the audience involved during his tribute to Charlie Wilson, from handing the mic to Yolanda Adams to get the crowd hype with singing to coaxing the legend to take the lead on his own song.

Johnny Gill (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

Charlie Wilson (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

NMAAM National Chair India Arie presented Charlie Wilson with his award. Charlie Wilson is so humble he couldn’t believe what all the fuss was about.  “I’m just having fun. I was just a young boy and it grows to this.” Wilson kept the fun going by breaking into his song “I’m Blessed” during his acceptance speech.

India Arie and Charlie Wilson (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

The tribute for Mona Scott-Young included a video message from Missy Elliott, a performance from Tweet, and a moving speech from Lil Mo.

Lil Mo (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

During her speech, Scott-Young was appreciative of the recognition of her role as a long-time music manager. “They say that it’s a thankless job, but tonight I have to disagree.”

Mona Scott-Young (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

The DJ played hit after hit that Nile Rodgers contributed to America’s soundtrack followed by Kathy Sledge performing her tribute to the legend.

Kathy Sledge and Nile Rodgers (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

The plot twist of the night was Rodgers’ collaborator country star Keith Urban made a surprise appearance. He delivered a moving speech about his friend. During his speech, Rodgers shared the good news that he is cancer free!

I caught up with some of the honorees, performers, and NMAAM leadership on the red carpet!

 Celebrating Musical Legends

“Anyone that does something impactful in any profession, it’s important to let them know that their work is important. It keeps them going, keeps them inspired, and lets them know that we appreciate it and it has impacted our lives. That’s the reason why we do any of the work that we do, we want to make an impact and make the world a better place. Sometimes, even the artists that get the acclaim day in and day out, it’s nice to let them know that their work actually does matter, that their music matters,” explained Henry Beecher Hicks III.

NMAAM President/CEO H. Beecher Hicks III and NMAAM Director of Development LoLita Toney (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

“Well who else is going to celebrate us if we don’t? That’s the most important thing that we celebrate ourselves because we’ve got a lot of contributions to the world,” said Dr. Bobby Jones.

Dr. Bobby Jones (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

“They gave us music that we can set our lives to, like our weddings, kids are born to it, they make things better. So why not let them know that we appreciate it while they are still here. Everybody wants to give you your roses while you are in your box, but I want to smell mine,” said Anthony Hamilton.

Being Honored by NMAAM

Yolanda Adams expressed her gratitude for being recognized. “I’m excited to be here because I’m being honored, so that’s number one. As for myself and all of the honorees tonight, we are all so thankful that we are being recognized by the museum,” said Adams.

Mona Scott-Young said it’s inspiring to be honored.  “A lot of times we realize after the fact what people’s contributions are. There is something uplifting about people recognizing the work that you’ve done while you are still here.  I think it’s important, it’s encouraging, and it sends a message to the people coming behind that there is an opportunity to do those things. So, recognizing those things while we are still here, I am grateful that I’m here to enjoy this moment.

The Importance of the National Museum of African American Music

Nile Rodgers explained why it’s important to have a place to learn the history of African American music. “I have traveled all over the world, and every musicologist worth their weight in anything have all said to me that what we call pop music is all a derivative from African American R&B, Soul, Funk, Jazz, or whatever you want to call it, that’s where it comes from. There’s no theoretical, rhythmic, or groove basis for what we call pop music or Rock & Roll later on, it just didn’t exist until we did what we did,” said Rodgers.

Charlie Wilson weighed in saying it’s important for people to know the history of music. “When you’re gone, and the young ones are coming up, I just think they need to know who was before them and how important it was to hold on to what you got, and to be able to tell somebody about that, God’s been good to somebody! Amen!”

Yolanda Adams agreed. “I think the museum is definitely needed to see how huge the role we played in the world. Music changes the world.”

“We’re an incredible people, we’ve done some incredible things and had some challenges, but we still remain resilient, we are awesome. So, we should have a place where people can go and see the legacy, the people, and the history,” said Hamilton.

NMAAM Director of Development LoLita Toney says the museum gives the opportunity to tell the history of America’s soundtrack. “If you don’t tell your truth, then people will tell it for you. If people don’t know the facts, then they will make it up. So, let’s tell the story and let’s give credit where credit is due. African Americans are American culture so let’s tell that story,” said Toney.

NMAAM President/CEO Hicks summed it up, “this museum and this music is about celebration, it’s about preservation; it’s about education, so we just want the world to know how important this music is to our country and to our culture.”

This is an event you don’t want to miss next year!

The gala is a major fundraiser for the museum that benefits our educational and community programs.