Usher and Babyface Honored at Apollo Spring Benefit Gala

. June 13, 2024

Babyface received the inaugural Legacy Award

Source: The Knock Turnal

On Tuesday (June 11th) multi-Grammy Award winners Usher and Babyface were honored at the Apollo Spring Benefit Gala at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater.

Babyface received the inaugural Legacy Award, presented by Fat Joe; and Usher received the Icon Award, presented by Apollo President and CEO Michelle Ebanks and Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes. Comedian actress Kym Whitley hosted the event.

Other notable attendees included Andra Day, Ava Duvernay, Bevy Smith, Doug E. Fresh, Ariana DeBose, Susan Kelechi Watson, Reverend Al Sharpton, Kara Young, Leon, Malik Yoba, Nikole Hannah Jones, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Tonya Lewis Lee, Janai Nelson, Kwanza Jones, and Sherrese Clarke- Soares. Adam Blacksone served as the musical director for the gala.

The Spring Benefit wraps up a thrilling week of celebrations for The Apollo’s 90th Anniversary where Ebanks joined Babyface and D-Nice for lighting of the Empire State Building in the organization’s colors red and gold. Also, The Apollo in collaboration with Apple Music released an exclusive Apollo 90 anniversary playlist featuring the greats who’ve played the hallowed venue over the last nine decades.

“This is my first one to be completely honest and to know that it’s celebrating 90 years here at the Apollo. That’s what makes it so special. I’ve sfeen so many artists that I grew to learn and love come from this stage. And so to now share that stage with that same lineage that same legacy means so much to me,” Blackstone told The Knockturnal.

The gala featured several performances and appearances from several special guests including Jordin Sparks, Big Daddy Kane, Johnny Gill, Karyn White, Avery Wilson, Saint Harrison, Leon Thomas, and Gabby Samone. A few of the performers spoke with The Knockturnal before hitting the stage about their favorite Usher and Babyface songs, in which Sparks mentioned that she would cover ‘One of Them Ones’ from his latest album Coming Home if she had a choice of his songs to cover. Sparks later opened the show with a medley of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” and Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” Gill said “of course Whip Appeal”, Babyface’s third single from his Tender Lover album. Gill later did a tribute to Babyface performing “My, My, My”, which was a Billboard Top 10 hit that Babyface wrote and produced for him.

Before Babyface and Usher were presented with their awards, a congratulatory letter from Quincy Jones was read by 2021 Impact Award recipient Felicia Horowitz. Usher was honored with a dance tribute choreographed by renowned creative director and choreographer Luam Klefegzy (Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Janelle Monáe). The evening also included a performance featuring previous Apollo Amateur Night winners pianist Kofi B., vocalist Wé Ani, and Queen of The Violin Kersten Stevens received a standing ovation.

When he took to the stage to accept his award Babyface said, “I’ve received a lot of awards over the years and this is one of the most important. Yesterday was an amazing day at the Walk of Fame. I think what made me most proud was when two of my sons, Dylan and Brandon both came up to me and said ‘Dad I am so proud to be your son.’ To know I did something not just for the world but to make my kids proud – that’s what we’re here for.”

In accepting the Icon Award, Usher described how The Apollo has motivated him in so many ways and reflected on seeing Amateur Night for the first time: “They say if you make it in New York you can make it anywhere. If you can make it to The Apollo you can do anything. I believe everything The Apollo is doing has motivated me in so many different ways. Not only just the dream and ambition to make it here but as a shining example of what it is to be steadfast. Wee can do something integral that will last from that moment to this present moment and then into the future.”

This year the Apollo Theater is also celebrating its 90th anniversary. “On this momentous anniversary, we honor the visionary trailblazers who paved the way for The Apollo’s storied history. From opening our doors in 1934, and navigating the ever-changing cultural tides, to the transformative leadership of Percy Sutton and the incomparable Jonelle Procope, who ushered in the debut of The Apollo Stages at the Victoria Theater and the upcoming renovation of our main stage, we’re not just preserving history, we’re creating new spaces for artistic expression and community connection,” said President and CEO of The Apollo Michelle Ebanks.

Governor of New York Kathy Hochul made an appearance presenting a special proclamation to the theater.

The gala raised $3 million, and the proceeds from the spectacular fundraiser will support the non-profit organization’s year-round, world-class artistic, education, and community programs, as well as its commitment to articulating and projecting the African American narrative using arts and culture, and creating a 21st century performing arts canon, according to The Apollo Theater.

The evening concluded with the Benefit’s legendary afterparty, DJ’ed by D-Nice with surprise performances by hip hop royalty Big Daddy Kane and Fat Joe. Throughout the party, guests enjoyed an array of delicious cuisine from Black-owned Harlem restaurants Vinateria, Angel of Harlem, Field Trip and Charles Pan Fried Chicken and danced the night away in the stunning tent designed by celebrated event designer and Apollo board member Bronson Van Wyck.