Judith Jamison To Be Honored as the Living Legend Celebrant
“LEARN THE CRAFT OF KNOWING HOW TO OPEN YOUR HEART AND TO TURN ON YOUR CREATIVITY. THERE’S A LIGHT INSIDE OF YOU.” – JUDITH JAMISON
The youngest of two kids in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Judith Jamison was fond of the arts from an early age. She studied piano and violin growing up and by the age of six dedicated her time to dance lessons. Her earliest classical ballet lessons were taught by master teachers Marion Cuyjet, Delores Brown, and John Jones at the Judimar School of Dance.
After three semesters studying at Fisk University, Jamison decided to purse a career in dance, and went on to complete her education at the Philadelphia Dance Academy. By 1964 she was discovered by choreographer Agnes de Mille and invited to appear in de Mille’s “The Four Marys” at the New York-based American Ballet Theatre. Soon after, Judith Jamison moved to NYC to embark on a career that would potentially be filled with great accomplishment. In 1965, Judith joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT).
Jamison performed with Alvin Ailey Dance Theater on tours of Europe and Africa in 1966. But, when financial pressures pushed Ailey to disband his company, Jamison decided to join the Harkness Ballet for several months before returning to the re-formed Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in 1989 when Mr. Ailey asked her to succeed him as Artistic Director. During her time away, she starred in the hit Broadway musical Sophisticated Ladies, and formed her own company, The Jamison Project.
Jamison was a principal dancer with AADT, dancing a variety of roles that highlighted her flexible technique, striking look, and exquiste stature of five feet, ten inches. Jamison took on more and more enduring roles, such as goddess Erzulie in Geoffrey Holder’s “The Prodigal Prince” (1967), as the Mother in a revised version of Ailey’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” (1968), and as the Sun in the 1968 Alvin Ailey Dance Theater revival of Lucas Hoving’s “Icarus.”
And with Jamison’s regal style, her character roles were a perfect fit every time. Critics adored her performances and were continuously drawn to her dance interpretations that embodied not only strength, but grace as well. Jamison and Ailey collaborated on more projects, creating brilliant solo pieces such as “Masekela Language” (1969) and the timeless and electrifying performance of Ailey’s 15-minute solo “Cry” (1971), a piece that propelled Jamison to international fame that is most unheard of among modern dance artists.
The tour-de-force solo piece “Cry” was Ailey’s dedication “to all black women everywhere — especially our mothers,” and properly captured a broad range of movements, feelings, and visuals linked to black womanhood as mother, sister, lover, goddess, provider, counselor, and dancer.
Lena Waithe To Be Honored as the Shot Caller Celebrant
“YOUR FIRST OBLIGATION AS A WRITER IS TO TELL THE TRUTH AND TO TELL A GOOD STORY.” – LENA WAITHE
Lena Waithe is the first black woman to be honored with an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Writing. ‘The Chi’ creator is well known for her ability to bring to life the narratives of LGBTQIA characters, as well as crafting roles that humanize characters of color, who are most often treated as props for entertainment.
Born May 17, 1984 in Chicago, Lena’s passion for television writing began from an early age with Black family-centric shows like The Cosby Show, A Different World, Moesha and Good Times, helping to develop a strong sense of story and dialogue. Lena attended Columbia College Chicago, graduating with a Cinema and Television Arts degree in 2006.
Soon after, Waithe began working her way up by becoming a writer for Fox’s crime show Bones and Nickelodeon’s sitcom How to Rock, as well as producing a variety of web series and short films.
Lena Waithe started out assisting Love and Basketball director Gina Prince-Bythewood and later worked as a production assistant for director Ava DuVernay. In 2014, Variety named Waithe as one of its “10 Comedians to Watch”.
Hustling her way to the top, she entered into the world of Netflix as a producer for Dear White People, allowing her to showcase her innate skills. But her rising success story does not stop there, the next year Waithe made a mainstream splash on the Netflix comedy series Master of None starring Aziz Ansari. Waithe’s contributions not only come from a writing perspective, but she also plays a supporting role as Denise, to Ansari’s character Dev. The “Thanksgiving” episode that took Waithe’s career to the next level was personally penned by Lena herself, and was a depiction of some of her real-life experiences coming out to her mother. Waithe took home an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 2017, a win that was pivotal for black women, as well as the gay community.
“I love you all and last but certainly not least my LGBTQIA family,” Waithe went on. “I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers — every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.
Lena Waithe was not only a triumph for the industry’s awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion in media and storytelling. Waithe is a strong advocate for bringing new voices to mainstream media by trailblazing the way for other writers, producers, creators and creatives to present their stories.
Mary J. Blige To Be Honored as the Star Power Celebrant
THE QUEEN OF HIP-HOP SOUL’S POWERFUL VOICE EMPOWERS, TRANSCENDS & SHAPES EVERYONE AROUND
&B or Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige is a strong force in the music industry. Born on January 11, 1971, in the Bronx, New York, Blige grew up heavily involved in music. From her early ages, she started singing in the church and fostered her love of entertaining.
At the age of 17, a recording of Blige singing made its way to the president and CEO of Uptown Records, Andre Harrell. From there, Blige was immediately signed to the record label. Lending her voice as a background singer, she became the company’s first female artist. By 1992 she dropped her first album, What’s The 411, with the help of record producer Diddy. The album quickly shot to the top of the charts landing at #6 on the Billboard 200 charts. The album introduced her street style and R&B lyrics to the world. With great reviews from music critics, What’s The 411 made Blige’s career a solid one to come.
Singles like “You Remind Me” and “Real Love” soared to the top of the charts and are still legendary hits by the singer to date. In 1993, the success of her debut album gained her two Soul Train Awards and Blige was off to a great start. By 1994 her second album, My Life, was released and immediately went to the top of the charts. Taking the #1 spot on the Top R&B/ Hip-Hop chart as well as #2 on Billboard 200, Blige’s second album confirmed her place in the R&B game. In the years to come, My Life was even credited as one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time” as well as placed in Time magazine’s 100 greatest songs of all time list.
In 1995 Blige’s powerful voice was used to create one of the most notable songs for the songstress. Blige’s “Not Gon’ Cry” was released on the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack and on her 1997 album, Share My World. The song’s message and Blige’s powerhouse of a voice made you feel every note and every word that she sang. Produced and written by Babyface, the song went certified platinum very quickly and became Blige’s largest commercial success.
Known as the hip-hop soul queen, Blige showed a different side of her music by releasing her self-titled album in 1999. The album included sultrier adult hits to highlight Mary’s range in music content. The album proved to be another success under her belt and was certified double platinum! Mary J. Blige’s reign never wavered.
According to the official Mary J. Blige site
“Iconic Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, actress and philanthropist, Mary J. Blige is a figure of inspiration, transformation and empowerment making her one of the defining voices of the contemporary music era. With a track record of eight multi-platinum albums, nine Grammy Awards (plus a staggering 32 nominations), a 2012 Golden Globe nomination, and five American Music Awards, Blige is a global superstar. In the ensuing years, the singer/songwriter has attracted an intensely loyal fan base—responsible for propelling worldwide sales of more than 50 million albums.”
Tarana Burke To Be Honored as the Community Change Agent Celebrant
“IT’S A BOLD DECLARATIVE STATEMENT THAT ‘I’M NOT ASHAMED’ AND ‘I’M NOT ALONE.'” – TARANA BURKE
For more than 25 years, activist and advocate Tarana J. Burke has worked at the intersection of sexual violence and racial justice. Fueled by commitments to interrupt sexual violence and other systemic inequalities disproportionately impacting marginalized people, particularly Black women and girls, Tarana has created and led various campaigns focused on increasing access to resources and support for impacted communities, including the Me Too movement.
Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Tarana became involved in her community as a teenager rallying for girls who had been abused or were disadvantaged and underserved. Realizing her calling early on, she organized protests and press conferences for numerous causes while attending Alabama State University and, ultimately, graduating from Auburn University with a degree in political science.
Over time, she has worked at, with and founded various nonprofits supporting social justice and equality. Her interests in furthering Black arts and culture eventually led her to be a consultant to Ava DuVernay on SELMA.
Best known for being the originating voice behind #MeToo in 2006, Tarana reframed the 2017 conversation around the increasingly popular hashtag to take the focus off aggressors and perpetrators in order to transmute victims into survivors. Instilling “empowerment through empathy,” life was given to a global platform for sharing stories and supportive listening. Our community is now bigger and the world is much smaller knowing we are all in this together.
Janet Jackson To Be Honored As The Rock Star Celebrant
“SINGING AND DANCING AND ALL THE JOY THAT GOES WITH PERFORMING COME FROM MY HEART. IF I CAN’T FEEL IT, I WON’T DO IT.” – JANET JACKSON
Born in Gary, Indiana, Janet Damita Jo Jackson is the youngest of her famous Jackson family siblings. She was not quite 3 years old when her brothers, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael, managed by their father, Joseph Jackson, signed a recording contract with Motown Records and began releasing a string of #1 singles as the Jackson 5. By the time she was 10, Janet’s family had moved to California, and she was appearing on the Jacksons’ TV variety show. Through the 1980s, she was Penny on the hit sitcom Good Times and also appeared on the TV version of Fame.
Janet came into her own as a recording artist (and as a young woman) with her third solo release, the 1986 album Control, produced with pop-funk masterminds Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Following up with 1989’s groundbreaking Rhythm Nation and the sexy 1993 album janet, Miss Jackson solidified her status as a pop icon and superstar of the highest rank. She has won five Grammy Awards, has record sales of over $100 million worldwide, has starred in numerous films and has inspired the masses.
But even as she has set the precedent on what a rock star’s career should look like and essentially hasn’t known a life outside of the limelight, she hasn’t seemed to lose sight of what’s real. Her State of the World tour, the eighth concert series of her career, is a clear reminder of that.
While State of the World is a history lesson in the form of a musical art performance stacked with crisp choreography and pop hits that reflect the decades they dominated, it’s also a subtle hint that she is well aware of our nation’s current social and political climate.
Although her lens may be higher up, she sees the aspects of the world that are broken, bruised and oppressed. As a true optimist, she searches for those glimpses of hope and love in each one of her fans. And that’s possibly all anyone could really hope for from an artist with so much influence.
Janet uses her influence for good supporting causes, charities and foundations such as amfAR, Feeding America, the NAACP, the Naked Heart Foundation and the American Red Cross, just to name a few. She takes on philanthropy with as much dedication and enthusiasm as she does her craft of entertainment.
Soft spoken and multidimensional, Janet is going to make sure we hear her voice in more than just her hit songs. She is going to make sure we hear her when she speaks on acceptance, equality, inclusivity, social consciousness and support for others who are on this journey of life with us.
With countless accolades, numerous awards and an all-encompassing display of talents and humanitarianism, Janet Jackson has undoubtedly achieved true rock star icon status, permanently leaving her mark in the history books.
Naomi Campbell To Be Honored as the Black Girl Magic Celebrant
“I LIKE WORDS LIKE TRANSFORMATION, REINVENTION, AND CHAMELEON. BECAUSE ONE WORD I DON’T LIKE IS PREDICTABLE.” – NAOMI CAMPBELL
Naomi Campbell, a larger than life name – without question. Campbell is one of the five original supermodels in the fashion industry. Naomi was born in London and studied at Italia Conti Academy stage school. After appearing in music videos for Bob Marley and Culture Club, she received her big break, signing with Synchro modeling agency at the early age of 15 years old. She has graced numerous covers of more than 500 magazines during her career, from campaigns for Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Prada, Versace, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino, just to name a few.
She was the first black model to appear on the cover of TIME magazine, French Vogue and Russian Vogue as well as the first British black model to appear on the cover of British Vogue. She’s always dominated each and every runway, as she showcased the collections from the world’s top designers, including Chanel, Azzedine Alaia, Christian Dior and Versace.
Additionally, Campbell has ventured off outside of fashion and appeared in countless TV shows, music videos and films, including “Empire,” “Star,” “Zoolander 2,” “New York Undercover,” “The Cosby Show,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Madonna’s “Erotica,” Michael Jackson’s “In The Closet,” along with many other projects. Campbell was the executive producer and coach on the reality TV series, The Face, about three models embarking on a quest to find the newest face in the modelling world. In addition to modeling, Campbell has also pursued a music career, which was particularly successful in Japan; and her hit “Love and Tears” peaked on the charts.
Aside from her many career ventures, Campbell is a well known philanthropist, and has raised incredible amount of funds and hosted and participated in charity work in South Africa and across the globe. She this passionate work with Nelson Mandela in 1993, and in 1997 he named her his “Honorary Granddaughter” for her endless social activism.
Naomi Campbell has also established Fashion For Relief, an organization that hosts charity fashion shows to raise funds for victims natural disasters. Since its conception in 2005, Fashion For Relief has presented shows in New York, London, Cannes, Moscow, Mumbai and Dar es Salaam, and has raised millions of dollars for various causes.
Naomi Campbell’s work speaks for itself, and she continues to be a formidable force in the world of fashion, and has used her success to establish herself as an entrepreneur whilst always helping others in need through her charity work. Her legacy is still being written and that is magic at its finest!