It was an emotional night filled with joy for Alicia Keys, as she and her mother Terria Joseph, were honored at the Harlem School for the Arts (HSA) 50th Anniversary Gala Kick-Off on October 5, 2015 at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. Mother and daughter received the Visionary Artist Award, and they were overjoyed to be welcomed by an organization that provides an opportunity for thousands of young people in New York City to express and develop their talent in dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts.
The 15-time Grammy Award winner was impressed by “great powerful limitlessness” of HSA. She said, “It’s a part of every heart of every child that I’ve been able to see tonight. I’m just like, over there having a ball!” The spotlight was on her, but on this evening, the famous daughter made sure praise was bestowed upon the woman responsible for her success. “Tonight, this honor here is really all about my mother,” she said. “I can only say thank you, and it’ll never, ever, be enough. I want to thank her for all the Sundays she played Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington on vinyl.” Joseph raised Keys in New York City as a single mother, and her daughter continually expressed her gratitude. “I want to thank her for being my mother, my father, my best friend and my biggest fan — even when nobody knew a thing about me.”
As her mother stood by her side on the Grand Ballroom stage, Keys described the qualities that made Joseph so special in her life. “I want to thank you for being my example of dedication, of loyalty, of determination, of dreams, of compassion, of kindness, reciprocity and womanhood.” She continued, “I want to thank her for everything that I am, because without her, I wouldn’t have the soul that I have, I wouldn’t have the love that I have, the will that I have, the versatility that I have or the strength that I have… Because without you, there would be no me, and that’s actually and artfully.”
Joseph, an actress who pushed Keys to stardom, talked about the struggle to promote both of their careers. “From the moment Alicia was born, I tried to juggle motherhood and my passion for acting, singing and dancing,” she said. “Today, when I look at her, I see that my taking her to Broadway musicals via the half-priced ticket line, my dragging her to both my rehearsals and her auditions or ballet classes or piano lessons… must have inspired her!” It was also a special night for Keys’ four-year-year old son, Egypt Dean, who delighted the crowd by dominating the auction bidding. With mom’s permission, he successfully bid $21,000 to take home a trip for four to a private resort on Guana Island in the British Virgin Islands and helped raise over $1 million for HSA students.
In addition to Keys and Joseph, honors were also presented to actress Cicely Tyson (Betty Allen Lifetime Achievement Award named after HSA’s second president), Grammy award winning soprano Jessye Norman (Dorothy Maynor Award named after HSA founder), portrait painter Kehinde Wiley (Visionary Artist Award), New York State Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright (Civic Award), and piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons (Corporate Award).
The program began with HSA Board Chairman Charles J. Hamilton thanking Herb Alpert for the five million dollar endowment in in 2012 that brought the school out of debt. “When I joined HSA five and a half years ago, it was dark,” he said. (Doors were closed for three weeks.) “Now we have 25 million dollars in revenues and we are debt free. This is a historic time as we celebrate our 50th anniversary.” President Eric G. Pryor added, “It’s critical that we give children a chance to express themselves,” he said. “We transform lives, and that’s critical.”
Students from the school provided entertainment throughout the evening. Decnis Pimental enchanted the audience with an English and Spanish rendition of The Shirelles 1964 classic, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” We’Ani McDonald received a standing ovation for her powerful version of “Listen” from Dreamgirls. Following her performance, the two-time defending Apollo Theater Amateur Night Champion was joined on stage by her father. “We struggled to make sure she realized her dream,” Dr. McDonald said to the audience. “I say thank you on behalf of all the families and all the children.” His daughter added, “I am so blessed to be here and see the growth of all of the children. Thank you.”
Proceeds from the gala benefits the Harlem School for the Arts in providing scholarships, funding pre-professional training programs, reaching public school children through its arts-in-education partnerships and renovating the school’s Herb Alpert Center in Harlem.