By K. Sophie Will
BU News Service
BOSTON – Boston’s elite gathered at the Museum of Fine Arts to raise money for the non-profit King Boston on Tuesday night. About 700 guests, adorned in their black-tie attire, raised $460,000 to build a memorial for civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King on Boston Common.
Mayor Martin Walsh, civil rights leader C.T. Vivian and “King of Calypso” Harry Belafonte were in attendance. Artists Taylor Dane; Earth, Wind & Fire, and surprise guest Common performed to a sold-out crowd.
The money raised will go to build one of five proposals for a memorial here in Boston, where the couple met during their college years and eventually married and lived in the South End.
Vivian, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and a friend of King himself, wished that “Martin” was there at the event.
“He would have loved it,” he said. “He always loved the kind of things where people were planning and thinking and learning.”
Mayor Walsh, who has been working closely with King Boston for some time on this project, was uplifted by the event.
“Looking around and seeing people from all around the city coming together for an important purpose is great,” he said.
Walsh said he does not have a favorite design for the memorial.
As guests flocked into the Shapiro Family Courtyard after a VIP reception with a performance by jazz singer Esperanza Spalding, almost every seat was filled and every glass full.
Monica Cost, a 47-year-old woman from Braintree, said that she could not pass up the chance to attend.
“These are the Boston kings and queens,” she said. “It’s so spectacular to see these stars.”
Taylor Dane opened up the evening with a tribute to Aretha Franklin, accompanied by the New England Conservatory Gospel Ensemble. After, the Ensemble performed “Oh, Happy Day,” with the crowd clapping and singing along.
Paul English, founder and co-chair of King Boston, presented a memorial tribute to him along with Mayor Walsh and co-chair Rev. Liz Walker.
“Dr. King’s vision is Boston’s mission,” Walsh said.
Common, the rapper and film producer, shocked the audience when he made an appearance at the event after leaving the Boston Celtics game.
He performed a freestyle rap about the night, and performed a piece entitled “New Black America,” or “New America,” as he shortened it to provide unity in the country, he said. It was met with a standing ovation and cheers from the crowd.
“We’re here because we want to change that narrative about what outsiders believe about Boston,” he said, referencing the Boston Globe series of racial economic inequality.
An auction took place where auctioneer John Terrio captivated the crowd. The auction items included a meet-and-greet with Earth, Wind & Fire; a culinary experience at Joe Carr’s Cape Cod home; the chance to travel with the Boston Celtics; a chance to golf with David Ortiz in the Dominican Republic; a first look at the memorial with Barbara Lynch; a Red Sox versus Yankees London adventure and a date night every month for a year.
These items, plus a few hundred thousand dollars in regular donations and two $100,000 donations to have their name etched into the memorial, amounted to $460,000 total funds raised for the night.
Vivian, mistress of ceremonies Tamron Hall, Robert Lewis Jr. from the BASE and CNN’s Bakari Sellers, held a brief discussion of civil rights today and in the future.
“Protest is messy,” Sellers said. “We have to rededicate ourselves to loving our neighbors even if they don’t love us.”
Lewis, echoing that, said, “tonight just can’t be a night of celebration, it’s what we do tomorrow that’s the King legacy.”
The evening ended with a benediction and a performance by Earth, Wind & Fire. Guests scooted back their chairs and huddled close to the stage as they sang and danced along.
The six-time Grammy Award-winning group sang their greatest hits, from “Shining Star” to “September,” and everything in-between. Three original members of the band, Verdine White, Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson played with a full band, and Bailey’s son, Philip Bailey, Jr.
Their performance rocked the MFA until just past midnight. Attendees received a rose on their way out.