CNN’s inaugural “Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom” concert is off to a roaring start: Live from the Hollywood Bowl, Black legends of music are bringing audiences to their feet in a joyful commemoration of the holiday.
The concert celebrates Juneteenth, the holiday that marks the end of slavery in the US. Black artists who will take the stage Sunday night include Earth, Wind & Fire Khalid and Bell Biv Devoe and more.
Gospel star Yolanda Adams opened the show with a rousing performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a historical rallying cry that’s also considered the Black National Anthem. A beaming Chaka Khan, backed by the Roots, followed with her hits “Ain’t Nobody” and “I’m Every Woman,” dedicating the latter song to the “powerful women” in the audience at the Hollywood Bowl.
Country phenom Mickey Guyton covered Marvin Gaye’s protest anthem “What’s Going On” and sang her original, Grammy-nominated single, “Black Like Me.” Poet Amir Sulaiman performed a powerful piece with a message to viewers: “You will be someone’s ancestor. Act accordingly.”
Vice President Kamala Harris appeared in a recorded message, as did former first lady Michelle Obama, who called on viewers to vote.
And yes, that was Beyoncé making a vocal cameo in a prerecorded segment on Opal Lee, the 95-year-old activist who worked to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. (More on Lee below.) Still to come is a message from President Joe Biden.
The entire creative team behind the concert is Black, CNN’s Sara Sidner reported ahead of the show, including creator Shawn Gee of Live Nation Urban and Jesse Collins Entertainment. The night also marks the first time an all-Black orchestra, Re-Collective Orchestra, will play the Hollywood Bowl, Sidner said.
The Re-Collective Orchestra performed with members of the Debbie Allen Dance Company, who performed a vibrant dance piece (and were introduced by Allen herself).
This is the second year the US has recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday, but many Black Americans have honored the date for years with parades, parties and family gatherings. The holiday is also an opportunity to reflect on the persisting systemic inequalities that Black Americans face.
The event honored the ‘grandmother of Juneteenth’
In a pre-show special, 95-year-old Lee told CNN’s Don Lemon that she was “pinching [herself]” at the fact that her life’s work of making Juneteenth a federal holiday had succeeded.
Earlier this Juneteenth, Lee, considered the “grandmother of Juneeteenth,” walked 2.5 miles to symbolize the two-and-a-half years that the enslaved African Americans of Galveston, Texas, lived in slavery after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Lee said Americans should spend the holiday celebrating, learning and continuing to advocate for change.
“I advocate that we celebrate from the 19th of June to the 4th of July,” she said. “That would be celebrating freedom.”
CNN’s Harmeet Kaur and Chloe Melas contributed to this report.
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