Black excellence filled the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem on Tuesday evening for the annual Root 100 Gala. It was an evening filled with comedy, music, and inspirational speeches to recognize the 2023 Root 100 honorees, a ranking of the most impactful Black Americans for the 14th year in a row.
Comedian Roy Wood Jr. and The Root’s Editor-in-Chief, Tatsha Robertson, hosted the event, which honored changemakers in the fields of “social justice, entertainment, entrepreneurship, media, sports, STEM and the arts.”
“We have a job of chronicling the Black experience. We are the ear of Black America,” said Robertson.
The first honorees of the night were TV news legends Al Roker and Deborah Roberts, who received the “Leadership and Purpose” award. As this dynamic husband and wife accepted their well-deserved award, they acknowledged the lessons they learned from their parents and how meaningful it was to be honored on the legendary Apollo stage.
Roberts described her father as “a man who believed in hard work, humility, faithfulness,” characteristics she has carried throughout her career. “No matter how much I have gained, how much I have soared, or how much I’ve accomplished, I’m still that little girl from Perry, Georgia, who’s just trying to keep it real. This special acknowledgment is so meaningful to both of us, but particularly to me because it is testimony to the life lessons imparted by my parents, Ben and Ruth Roberts. And tonight, I hope they are so proud.”
“I’m glad to be here to accept this great award,” said Roker, a New York native, before joking, “the only reason I got this award is because you really wanted her.”
The first Black principal ballerina for the American Ballet Theater, Misty Copeland, received a standing ovation as she accepted the award for Arts and Activism and shared the story of how music legend Prince once sat in the orchestra as she danced as the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker” at the Apollo.
Grammy-winning artist Jon Batiste received The Root 100’s first “Vision and Voice” award. He shared his immense gratitude for the honor paid homage to James Brown and his unique journey, including a connection to the Apollo with attendees.
“Hello, hello, hello! Whewwww, my goodness!” the star exclaimed. “Apollo, Soul Power! Say Soul Power! Soul Power! Power to the people! Man, I’ve been dreaming of doing that…James Brown ‘Live at the Apollo’…the history of this venue and The Root—whew!”
When he accepted his award, Batiste recounted how his father and mother packed him and his siblings in their family car and drove to New York, where his father performed during the Apollo’s iconic Amateur Night and won. About 20 years later, Batiste performed on the same stage with a friend. He was back on that iconic stage on Tuesday night as an award recipient.
The talented musician then brought the entire audience to their feet as he played several instruments and had the crowd singing along as he played the classic “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing” by Duke Ellington and “Killing Me Softly With His Song” By The Fugees.
There were many other memorable moments from the evening, including the impactful acceptance speeches of White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Fulton County District Fani Willis. It was also fascinating to learn how hip-hop legend Doug E. Fresh and Dr. Olajide Williams, founders of Hip-Hop Public Health, combined culture and music to improve health outcomes for underserved communities.
Overall, the program featured a rich experience of Black music, culture, and simply Black excellence.
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