Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, MC Lyte, Trae Tha Truth, Questlove, Big Freedia, Erica Campbell and Recording Academy chairman Harvey Mason Jr. were among the honorees accepting their formal induction into Ebony magazine’s Power 100 Class of 2021 at an event held Saturday evening (Oct. 23) at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. The event marked the culmination of the iconic magazine’s 75th anniversary year celebration.
Entertainer Wayne Brady hosted the ceremony, introducing himself as the “traffic cop for the evening — not the way like when you get stopped, but in a loving way to make things flow.” Among the evening’s highlights were individual tributes to rap pioneer MC Lyte and songwriting-production duo Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.
Accepting the trailblazer award from fellow hip-hop legend Salt of Salt-N-Pepa, Lyte noted following the audience’s standing ovation, “Let me acknowledge this room of talented, astute, spiritual and wise kinfolk … it’s been so long since we had a communion like this. There’s nothing we can’t do. Give us an inch and we will take a mile —because we know what to do with it.”
Jam & Lewis were presented with the lifetime achievement award by Janet Jackson via video and singer MAJOR. onstage. Thanking “God in the sky and god on earth, Clarence Avant — the Black Godfather,” his family and Ebony (“I saw people that looked like myself”), Jam said the pair’s award “isn’t a place to stop but a bar set high that we will continue to try to raise every day.” After doing a quick “happy dance,” Lewis thanked his family as well, adding, “You could be in Billboard, Variety or any other magazine, but you didn’t make it until you were in Ebony or Jet. That was the bar. I love awards, but I love the journey that I’ve been on … and the journey that I’m going to be on with you.”
Also among the individual honorees were entertainers of the year Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith and Adrienne Banfield-Norris as hosts of Red Table Talk (presented onstage to Banfield-Norris) and Colin Kaepernick, who accepted the chairman’s humanitarian award from Ebony chairman Eden Bridgeman Sklenar in a videotaped speech. Brady was recognized as well, with the vanguard award, for his outstanding achievements as an “all-around entertainer and performer.” Doing the presentation honors was Broadway veteran and legendary performer Ben Vereen, whose appearance onstage to honor his “adopted son” elicited another standing ovation.
“Give yourselves a standing ovation,” Vereen declared. “Too many of us have trudged through the dirt for us to be here tonight … and babies, you look good!”
Revealed earlier this month, Ebony’s 2021 power class — rooted in the theme “Bold. Brilliant. Black.” — also saluted honorees in categories such as music impact, entertainment powerhouses, next gen, ceiling breaker, excellence in journalism, social justice champions and community builders. Ebony’s last Power 100 celebration was held in 2018.
Speaking on behalf of the 12 artists and executives recognized in the music impact category, including Travis Scott, Lil Baby, MBK Entertainment president Jeanine McLean and ICM Partners head of strategic partnerships Joi Brown, Big Freedia commented before a cheering ballroom, “This feels amazing to know that the work we do is not in vain. As storytellers, we’re forever grateful to tell our stories and keep making fans live through the music.”
Interspersed throughout the evening were spirited performances by Justine Skye, Lucky Daye, MAJOR. and Power 100 inductees Campbell and Deon Jones. Ebony CEO Michele Ghee closed the evening, pledging that with the magazine’s relaunch earlier this year the push is now on to “Move Black Forward” in 2022. As such, she announced plans to relaunch sister publication Jet next year and release its NFT collection, Ebony X, in April.
“The last two years have been challenging, but we are still standing,” said Ghee. “Ebony 2.0 understands that there’s still so much to do. And Team Ebony is here for all of it to hold the world accountable.”