The air was electric as hundreds of community members paid tribute a host of honorees Saturday during the 29th Annual 2008 Living Legends program held at the A. C. Bilbrew Library.
Those honored during the Black History Month ceremony were sportscaster Brad Pye Jr., KJLH Jacquie Stephens, actresses Angela Bassett, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and actress, author and pastor Della Reese. The event, whose theme was Women in Entertainment, was sponsored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the County of Los Angeles Public Library.
These are the people that make things happen. They have honored our community by coming here, said Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite-Burke.
During the ceremony, the honorees frequently paid homage to County Supervisor Burke, who founded the Living Legends program nearly three decades ago. Burke is scheduled to retire next year from the Board of Supervisors.
Serving as master of ceremonies for the event was actor William Allen Young. Lending their voices in song during the ceremony were special musical guests Tata Vega and husband-and-wife singing duo Kenny Latimore and Chante Moore.
Actress Alfre Woodard, who was scheduled to be honored, was unable to attend the celebration due to filming commitments.
Pye, a Community Service nominee whose sports column Prying Pye is a popular staple in black newspapers and whose sports journalism career spans 50 years, was instrumental in striking down segregation in sports in Los Angeles. Pye assisted in helping Emmit Alford become the first black umpire in major league baseball. He also helped to integrate the sports boxes that were once off limits to black sports writers.
Pye was humbled with emotion as he accepted his proclamation from Burke. This is a long way from Plain Dealing, Louisiana, said Pye, referring to the small town he hailed from. We only had one stop light. On Saturday, we would go down and watch the signals change, quipped Pye as many in the audience chuckled.
Community Service nominee Stephens, news and public affairs director of KJLH 102.3 FM radio and the long-time host of the popular radio show L.A. Speaks Out said she was equally honored in receiving the Living Legend award. I can only say thank you, said Stephens. It is indeed an honor to be up here with such achievers. Im so happy. The doors are always open for you at KJLH.
Stage and screen actress Angela Bassett, who was nominated for an academy award for her riveting portrayal in the Tina Turner biopic Whats Love Got to Do With It, said that she was grateful to be honored. Bassett also noted that she had loved libraries and as a child and that books had fueled her creative imagination.
Within the pages of books, I was able to travel, daydream and imagine, Bassett told the audience. I know we have the Internet, but Im a tactile person. I like to touch and hold a book.
Pausing, she added, Being in the library also taught me how to sit down somewhere and be quiet. I feel honored and deeply grateful to be presented with this Living Legend Award, said Bassett.
Bassett added that although she was glad to be honored as a living legend, she said she would pay special heed to the word living included in the title. It means there is still work to do at home and on the field, she noted.
Lauded for her portrayal as Deena Jones in the original Dreamgirls which earned her both a Tony and a Drama Desk Award nomination and for her critically acclaimed Divas Simply Singing, an annual benefit to combat AIDS, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph said she was emotionally moved that Burke had chosen her to be honored with the Living Legend award. Ralph acknowledged that Burke was one of her role models when she was growing up. Im that little girl who picked up an Ebony magazine one day and there was a picture of a beautiful black woman, said Ralph, who found out that the woman was Burke. I said, Daddy, shes beautiful. Daddy said, And shes smart, too. I started dreaming about California. And here I am today accepting the Living Legend Award from Ms. Burke, said Ralph, turning to thank the supervisor.
Ralph, who has been on the forefront of the AIDS battle, then launched into a dramatic presentation concerning AIDS. How many of you have friends or family members dying of this disease, but you are not saying anything? I am not infected by the disease, but I am affected, she said. If one of us suffers, we all suffer. Peering into the audience, she added, Dont sleep on it. Dont let it be like Juneteenth when slavery was abolished and the slaves were the last ones to know it.
Emmy and Grammy nominated author, actress, singer and ordained minister Della Reese, who enjoyed nine seasons on the popular television show Touched By An Angel, candidly revealed, Its marvelous to see you and its wonderful when we can gather together. I just love it when people love me. It makes me feel good all over my body.
Others appearing at the Living Legend event were Rev. Eric P. Lee, who delivered the invocation; Neuhaus Entertainment Group recording artists Trilogy, County Librarian Margaret Donnellan Todd, and the Rev. John DeRon Johnson of Phillips Temple CME Church, who delivered the benediction. Also on hand to pay tribute to the honorees were actress Chandra Wilson of the television show Grays Anatomy; photographer Howard Bingham; the Honorable Zenita Moore, mayor of Belize; Senator Vincent Hughes; Councilman Bernard Parks; and Assemblymembers Mike Davis and Mervyn Dymally.