by Julian Spivey
The A&E Television Networks and the United Way partnered to bring the Shining a Light concert to advance progress on race in America to television on Friday, Nov. 20. You wouldn’t think that in the year 2015 we would need a benefit concert for advancing the progress of race in this country, but this last year has proven that it’s indeed something we could use.
And so some of the biggest and brightest musical stars in our country got together for a great evening of music and trying to both raise money and bring awareness to racial issues we’re experiencing currently in this country.
Throughout the night’s performances pre-filmed documentary shorts where filmed in areas of the country experiencing significant racial unrest over the past year like Charleston, S.C., Ferguson, Mo. and Baltimore. R&B artists Pharrell Williams, John Legend and Alicia Keys visited these cities respectively to get a feel of what life was like in these affected areas.
The performances from the concert were all incredibly stunning – something that you’ll actually rarely see from a benefit type concert where artists from all backgrounds and musical genres appear often singing songs that aren’t their own. I fully believe music can change hearts and the minds and opinions of people and thus it was truly fantastic to see so many artists from different genres performing on the Shining a Light special.
The only downfall about this particular special is the bulk of its viewership was almost certainly from people who already support the cause and the advancement of racial progress in the country. It would seem unlikely that those truly needing a change of heart would’ve tuned into the program in the first place.
The special kicked off brilliantly with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s brilliant protest song “American Skin (41 Shots)” about police brutality and the fear that minorities have just from leaving their house due to policing tactics like profiling. Springsteen performed the song as a duet with the always spectacular John Legend with a roaring guitar solo from frequent tour mate Tom Morello.
As previously mentioned every single performance of the evening was stunning, so it’s not necessary to discuss all of them but notable performances included Ed Sheeran’s stunning take on The Impression’s Civil Rights era anthem “People Get Ready,” Sia’s cover of the Jimmy Cliff classic “Many Rivers to Cross” and Zac Brown Band performing “Remedy.”
Pharrell Williams performed a taped version of “Freedom” from the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C. that was the sight of the horrific hate crime in June where nine African-Americans were murdered by a white supremacist. It was a truly emotional performance for everybody involved, including those watching from home on television.
Another fantastic performance was Eric Church debuting his new song “Kill a Word” from his surprise recent album Mr. Misunderstood, along with Smokey Robinson, Aloe Blacc and Rhiannon Giddens (who performs backing vocals on the recorded track). Church’s song is about killing truly devastating and hateful words like “hate.”
Oscar-winning actor/singer Jamie Foxx also had a particularly moving performance when he took the audience both in person and at home to church with a performance of “No Weapon” after bringing his daughter (who can recite every book of the Bible by heart) and her closest friends of all different races onto the stage and explained that kids don’t want to hate, just play with everybody, no matter what they look like.
The Shining the Light concert ended with two more jaw-dropping performance by Jill Scott doing a haunting cover of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” one of the most important songs ever recorded about the horrors of lynching black people in the American South during the days of Jim Crow. The show ended with Big Sean and John Legend collaborating on the powerful “One Man Can Change the World,” which ended with Big Sean pleading to the viewing public that “being one’s best self is all it takes to change the world for the better.”