BetteBack: Stars celebrate birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. – 1986

The Seguln Gazette-Enterprise
Associated Press Writer
January 21,1986

WASHINGTON (AP) – The f i r st national holiday celebrating the bi r th of Martin Luther King Jr. came to a close with a three-city, musical f ina le produced by singer-composer Stevle Wonder and studded wi th stars.

“This is just the beginning,” said Wonder, who has been c ampa igning six years for na t ional observance of Ma r t in Luther King Day. “It’s not just a black holiday anymore.”

Simultaneous concerts, produced by Wonder, were taped Monday before live audiences in Washington, At l anta and New York, then edited in Washington for a two-hour television special broadcast n a t i o n a l ly by NBC later in the evening.

Among the performers were Bob Dyl an; Peter, Paul and Ma r y; Bette Midler; Harry Belafonte; Bill Cosby; the Pointer Sisters; Diana Ross; Elizabeth Taylor; Eddie Mu r p h y; Patti LaBelle, Joan Baez; Neil Diamond; Dick Gregory; and Lionel

Capacity crowds paid $35 to $1,000 a seat to see the shows at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Atlanta Civic Center and Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Proceeds are going to the Ma r t in Luther King Center for Non-violent Social Change in At l ant a. Concert spokeswoman Susie Trees said $200,000 was raised f r om the Washington show, whi ch drew 2,100 people.

“This is the greatest night of my life,” Wonder said.

At a 1979 benefit for the Ki ng center, Wonder introduced a version of “Happy Birthday” he had wr i t t en as a t r ibute to the late c i v il rights leader. The song gained popularity, and the performance turned out to be the start of the singer’s lobbying efforts, which included three ma rches in Wa shington and constant pressure on Congress.

When all 38 performing groups and i n d i v i d u al stars in the three cities closed Monday’s concerts wi th the song, audiences rose to their feet, sang along and waved fluorescent sticks like thousands of bi r thday candles.

Earlier in the show, Diana Ross also had members of the crowd out of their seats, holding hands above their heads, as she went through the audience, singing, “Reach Out and Touch.”

Peter, Paul and Mary, joined by Bob Dylan and Wonder, received cheers for what has been described as the anthem for the protest movement of the 1960s, “Blowln’ In the Wind.”

Peter Yarrow said later it was the f i r st time the trio, whose recording made the song famous, had sung it with Dylan, its composer.

Filmed excerpts of King’s oratory were interspersed with the musical numbers, fend commentary was provided by celebrities, including District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, both of whom were young
civil rights workers when King was alive.

A f t e r t he e x t r a v a n g za in Washington, 1,200 guests and performers gathered at the Civil Warera Old Pension Building, now known as the National Building Museum, for a black-tie supper of barbecued chicken and ribs.

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