The 13th annual event celebrated Clive Davis for his activism in AIDS awareness.
“There’s a spirit in here,” Alicia Keys told her guests at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Wednesday night (Oct. 19) at the 13th annual Keep A Child Alive Black Ball. And that vibe was tangible. Clad in long dresses and black ties, attendees of the event were in for a treat and a trip down memory lane.
The event, which was live streamed on Tidal, channeled the theme of the 80s by tapping into the political drive of that era while celebrating the musical voices of a generation — past and present. Performers who defined that decade and early 90s included Salt-N-Pepa — “the dopest female rappers,” according to Keys, who later performed their biggest hits as if no time had passed. Also on hand to perform were rock icon Patti Smith, as well as present-day hip-hop visionaries Chance the Rapper and A$AP Rocky. Keys performed too, of course, singing with Chance, A$AP and Patti and also filling a solo slot with classic and new material.
Prior to taking a deep dive into her 2007 hit “No One,” Keys dedicated the track to Clive Davis, the evening’s honoree. Music industry icon and Sony Music Entertainment chief creative officer Davis encapsulates KCA’s mission to its core, as he has long been an advocate for AIDS awareness and research. He has not only inspired positive change, but also inspired countless artists over the years — working with the likes of Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Smith, Keys, and so many more throughout his decade-spanning career. “Music entered my life my accident,” Davis said to the room who greeted him with a standing ovation. “But then it took over my life.”
He proceeded to praise Bob Dylan’s latest accolade — the Nobel prize for literature— condemn the “lethal empire” of AIDS in Africa, and then ended his speech by quoting Keys’ and Rocky’s new song “Blended Family.” “Alicia,” he began. “I think you’re beautiful, I think you’re perfect. I know how hard it gets, but I swear it’s worth it.”
“Clive Davis for president!” Keys joked. That wouldn’t be the last time she cited politics, though the second time was far less humorous. During her block of time to perform she discussed the current election and said how at that moment, in Las Vegas, there was an “orange man” who is “trying to gamble with our democracy,” a reference to Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
She then affirmatively stated, “Orange is not the new black,” before delivering “Holy War” off her upcoming album Here. She also offered a chilling version of “Fallin’” that was equally rich in harmony and heart as she sang each lyric with such intention, and seemingly addressed the song to herself in light of her newfound self love.
When she wasn’t performing, Keys stood side stage beaming with joy as she watched her friends and “siblings” — she calls Chance “brother” and Rocky calls her “sis” — deliver impassioned performances of their own. Before Chance wrapped up his time on stage, he said, “This is probably the most important thing I’ve done in awhile” — this coming from someone who frequents the White House.
Chance ran through “Angels” and “No Problem” off Coloring Book, and Alicia jumped in on vocals and piano for “Blessings (Reprise).” Aside from sharing the stage with Chance, she also performed the new collaborative song “Blended Family” with Rocky, whose set included a shout out to A$AP Yams and the A$AP Mob track “Yamborghini High,” and joined forces with Smith on “Because The Night.”
Keys thanked Smith — “an originator, a real example of womanhood,” before thanking those who not only support KCA but also Keys’ larger mission in life: to inspire self-love and love for others, from all walks of life. As she and Smith stood side by side holding hands, they sang in declarative defiance, “Because the night belongs to us” — a sentiment that shook the room to its core, as on that night in truly did.