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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

By Dennis J. Freeman

HOLLYWOOD—There was a party going on at the Hollywood Bowl on June 19. In recognition of a day in which the freedom for slaves as a result of the emancipation proclamation had formally turned into fruition, CNN hosted the first "Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom" concert in front of a packed house.

The atmosphere was electric with performances from Ne-Yo, Earth, Wind & Fire, Chaka Khan, The Roots and a whole host of other folks.

The nearly four-hour celebration ran the gamut of music that has come to identify the Black experience in America since 1865. Gospel music, long identified as the source of the spiritual backbone for Black people navigating slavery to the Reconstruction era to Jim Crow to the funk/soul genre and up until hip hop dominated the scene, was in good hands with Marry Mary, Anthony Hamilton, and Michelle Williams.

Unfortunately, that happened at the back end of the show when the consciousness of the audience had been already surging with energy coming from other sources. This is not to say that the concert was uneven or lacked flair.

By most accounts, "Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom" was a great opportunity to blend the old with the new and something in between to highlight the plight of Black Americans from the past until the present. On a scale of 1 through 10, consensus puts the concert at about a 9.

A couple of things missing were music from the funk era of the 1970s and some Old School and socially conscious hip hop (Chuck D. and Public Enemy would have lit up the place).  

Other than that, the event was well-paced and seemed to hit the right buttons at the right time. Outside of several video displays from President Joe Biden, former First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and a reading from singer Jill Scott, the flavor of the show was done in person.

This helped to keep the concert moving along at the pace it went. As usual, some concertgoers had to twist and contort themselves like Cirque du Soleil acrobats to make out the stage action around of the discourtesy of the crowd in front of them.

The overly-excited crowd got plenty of good music to listen to, starting with gospel star Yolanda Adams belting out "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the Black national anthem. Chaka Khan was soon to follow with her two-song set, culminating with her female anthem call of "I'm Every Woman."

The two-song set seemed to be the theme of the evening (with the exception of Earth, Wind & Fire) for all of the artists because of a heavy lineup of performers.

Among the many performers on stage doing their thing, Earth, Wind & Fire was already in game mode when they hit the stage near the end of the concert. Verdine White, Philip Bailey, and Ralph Johnson, original members of Earth, Wind & Fire, sparked some highlights of their own performing "Fantasy" and "September."

But before the legendary R&B group made the evening at the Hollywood Bowl even more special, Khalid (Talk), Lucky Daye, Mickey Guyton (Black Like Me, What's Going On), Ne-Yo, and DJ Smoke burned some electricity of the songs they performed.

Then again, this audience was expecting nothing short of great music. That is something that Bell Biv DeVoe didn't have a problem delivering. With the crowd up and eager and ready to go, Bell Biv DeVoe pretty much put the baby to bed when they performed their signature hit, "Poison."

Of course, this all-star lineup of talent wouldn't have been as effective without The Roots and Billy Porter providing their brand of what Black music sounds like. Performing to the strings of The Re-Collective Orchestra, the Debbie Allen Dance Academy made their own music with their happy feet.

In all, "Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom" was more than a worthwhile event to attend. It was a reminder of where Black people have come from and where we are today.