Last Monday night I experienced the most wonderful heartwarming, fulfilling hour of television ever. Last year Oprah threw a three day tribute to a group of African American women she called LEGENDS. These are women we all know, grew up with, idolized and admired. They are important especially to Black women. These women should be acknowledged for their accomplishments, contributions and triumphs and their struggles and resilience in a segregated male oriented world. This tribute was all about thank you and gratitude.
The weekend took a year of painstaking planning for Oprah, Gail King and the party planner, chefs and…you know. The Friday luncheon was held at Oprah’s California home with lavish detail to pay tribute to Queens. It was spectacular! It was intentionally, deservedly exquisite. In attendance to pay tribute was the other group of accomplished, junior legends in the making, women that Oprah called the Young’uns. The Legends and Young’uns did not know who else was coming, making the arrivals a swirl of hugs and OMG’s and “hey girl’s” and surprises. After lunch they all took a trolley to the spot where they posed for a magnificent portrait, then walked back across the bridge together talking. The generational exchanges were amazing. The younger women were telling the Legends how they impacted their lives. Mary J. Blige told Gladys Knight that her childhood had few great nights but Gladys’ music “saved my life”; Della Reese telling about working Las Vegas hotels but not being able to eat or sleep there; Janet Jackson kneeling next to and listening intently to Maya Angelou; Ruby Dee talking with Angela Bassett; Missy Elliot looking humbled and awed and teary.
Cicely Tyson- “I look at all the accomplished women and feel honored that I am among them”.
Janet Jackson- “I have never experienced anything like this ever in my life.”
Young’un poet/playwright Pearl Cleage was asked by Oprah to write a poem defining the event.
We Gather Here To Speak Your Names. We Speak Your Names. In her introduction, the poet shares: "My sisters, here, there, and everywhere, this poem is for you. Use it, adapt it, pass it on. …" During the reading the tears flowed, the younger women were almost gushing with gratitude and the Legends were so full you could see and feel them accepting it, relishing it.
It was beautiful.
Monica and I loved it. I was crying as usual and my phone kept ringing. “Are you watching this?”…ring…”hey there’s Tina and Chaka and Diana…ring…“is that Melba Moore?”…ring… “you see how Mariah is looking at Nancy Wilson, beautiful”.
Lastly, Oprah presented all the women with diamond expressions of appreciation. Drop diamonds earrings for the Legends and hoops for the Young’uns! OMG! The squealing! Women know they love some diamonds! The evening was extravagant, the gifts extravagant but Oprah said,
“There isn’t a gift I could have given to equal what you have meant to my life so no matter how extravagant, it still is not enough”.
We were feeling that too. One thing this event did even through the TV, is make you feel strongly the gifts these women gave us and she's right, it can never be enough. But how good it must feel to be so sincerely thanked for your work, for your life and as Alicia keys said ‘know that they will not be forgotten”.
I regret Rosa Parks was not there but so glad Corretta King was.
Saturday night was the white-tie Legends Ball, a celebratory night of recognition and acknowledgment and partying. More legends and celebs attending, Sidney Poitier, Barbra Walters, Barbra Streisand, Spike Lee, Smokey Robinson, the Wayan brothers, Jonathan Demme, Usher, John Travolta (who cried through it all), Maria Shriver and more. There was another dramatic reading of We Speak Your Names by the younger women, Angela, Halle, Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, and the others, followed by Oprah reading each name as the Legend rose. And finally, partying! Dancing! Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson, Diane Sawyer, Oprah and Stedman, Gail and John Travolta, everybody dancing!
Now comes Sunday morning brunch with biscuits and fried chicken and waffles and Bebe Winans and more tears from John Travolta. (He’s worse than me.) Bebe passed the mike around starting with gospel legend Shirley Ceasar, then to Gladys, Dionne, Chaka, Patti LaBelle, Yolanda Adams. Yall know it was church up in there! Beautiful, emotional, spirited ending.
Monica remarks often that young people don’t respect those that came before or the work it took to lay down the path they walk down so easily. Hopefully some young girls will see the entertainers they look up to paying reverence to these women, and get it.
Alisha Keys said quietly, almost as if awakening, “It’s all clear to me, oh, oh, I’m supposed to continue this amazing, incredible, how can we ever live up to it example. And we will. We will live up to it.”
Diane Sawyer - “I thought it was to be a standard tribute, then realized how intensely personal it was”.
My nephew Nolen said he drew inspiration from the event and we talked about the individual legends, some he was not familiar with. He spoke of male legends and wanting an event for them. Poitier, Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones, Rev. Jackson, Bill Cosby, we named them. To be appreciated by Denzell, Barack, Jamie and Will. To put on the mind of the new celebs, is your work the quality of the legends? Are your shoulders worthy and broad enough and substantial enough to stand on? That’s a question for all of us. Great conversation.
I am grateful to Oprah for her inspired generosity.
She did this for herself, she was compelled to, knowing she is not where she is without standing on these women’s shoulders. I’m also sure she knew it would inspire us to speak their names beyond that gathering. So as Oprah said,
“To every Legend known or unknown, we honor you, we thank you, we owe you.”
MAYA ANGELOU - writer/poet/actress
SHIRLEY CAESAR - gospel singer
DIAHANN CARROLL - singer/actress
ELIZABETH CATLETT - artist
RUBY DEE - actress
KATHERINE DUNHAM - dancer/choreographer
ROBERT FLACK - singer
ARETHA FRANKLIN - singer
NIKKI GIOVANNI - poet
DOROTHY HEIGHT- civil rights activist
LENA HORNE - singer/actress
CORETTA SCOTT KING - civil rights activist
GLADYS KNIGHT - singer
PATTI LA BELLE - singer
TONI MORRISON - writer
ROSA PARKS - community activist/seamstress
LEONTYNE PRICE - opera singer
DELLA REESE - actress/singer
NAOMI SIMS - model
TINA TURNER - singer
CICELY TYSON - actress
ALICE WALKER - writer
DIONNE WARWICK - singer
NANCY WILSON - jazz singer
Kimberly Elise - actress
Alicia Keys - singer/songerwiter/musician
Phylicia Rashad - actress/singer
Beverly Johnson - model
Alfre Woodard - actress
Suzan-Lori Parks - playwright
Gayle King - editor "O" magazine
Mariah Carey - singer
Annah Deaver Smith - playwright
Terry McMillan - writer
Valerie Simpson - singer/songwriter
Halle Berry - actress
Ashanti - singer
Angela Bassett - actress
Missy Elliot - rap artist
Michelle Obama - community affairs executive
Debbie Allen - actress/dancer/choreographer
Pam Grier - actress
Chaka Kahn - singer
Susan L. Taylor - editorial director, Essense magazine
Pearl Cleage - poet/playwright
Kathleen Battle - opera singer
Darnell Martin - director/screenwriter
Melba Moore - singer/actress
Audra McDonald - actress/singer
Janet Jackson - singer/actress
Suzanne de Passe - television producer/writer
Judith Jameson - dancer/choreographer
Iman - model
Mary J. Blige - singer
Natalie Cole - singer
Tyra Banks - model/TV personality
Naomi Campbell - model
Brandy Norwood - actress/singer
Yolanda Adams - singer