Burlington Times News
June 22, 1995
If you want to do music live on TV, you hire a guy who knows how to do it. And Ken Ehrlich, producer of â€œVHI Honorsâ€ tonight at 8 p.m. knows how. Heâ€™s the man who has tried for the past 15 years to tame the beast called Grammy.
â€œThe key to that one,â€ he says just a bit defensively, â€œis its diversity. Three hours, 15 performances; I mean where else would you see Placido Domingo and Henry Rollins on the same stage?â€
Diversity is at the heart of â€œVHI Honorsâ€ as well, but come on Ken, did the world really need another awards show?
â€œThis one kind of evolved from an idea that really didnâ€™t start with awards or honors,â€ Ehrlich says. â€œVHI wanted to do something big and splashy, something more â€˜eventâ€™ than â€˜award.â€™ And â€˜eventâ€™ means you try to do something that doesnâ€™t happen every day. That means putting together performers youâ€™d never see together.â€
But to get peopleâ€™s attention, you have to have a reason to pull together a line-up as diverse as Thursday nightâ€™s will be.
â€œThatâ€™s the overlay â€” the reason,â€ Ehrlich says, â€œand maybe just having them together would have been enough of a reason. But it became very valid to the artists to say to them, â€˜You have shown over the years a very strong commitment to one or more causes, and we ask you to come and be a part of this show.â€™ â€
Compliments to the idea-mongers at VHI for coming up with a worthwhile reason, recognition for public service outside the music industry.
Last yearâ€™s event cited Melissa Etheridgeâ€™s work for L.A. Shanti, a group that provides support for HIV-AIDS sufferers.
Garth Brooks was tapped for his Feed the Children efforts.
And part of the performance excitement came from the unlikely pairings of honorees and presenters. As a result, Etheridge rocked with Van Halenâ€™s Sammy Hagar and Brooks got to do a duet with one of his early idols James Taylor.
â€œWe try to create a platform for such magic moments to happen,â€ Ehrlich says. Which means doing all you can and then trusting fate.
â€œI like to get (the show) to the point where (the acts) are pretty comfortable with where they are, but I donâ€™t like to over-rehearse.
â€œWe donâ€™t want the best performance to be the one in rehearsal.â€
This year, honorees run the gamut from the King of Pop Michael Jackson (the only honoree who wonâ€™t perform) to the Country Music Associationâ€™s Entertainer of the Year â€” twice â€” Vince Gill. And each celebrated guest has invited someone significant to his or her life or career to be his presenter. Which means 16 artists whose satisfaction Ehrlich must guarantee.
â€œIâ€™m not going to say that itâ€™s easy,â€ he says. â€œWhen you do multi-act shows, they all want to be treated best. Quincy (Jones) said it best when they did the â€˜We Are the Worldâ€™ thing. â€˜Leave the ego at the door.â€™
â€œBut we try to create an environment in which the acts can be happy. To a great extent, itâ€™s a matter of trust,â€ Ehrlich says.
â€œAnd the people who work with me have established that kind of trust.â€
And Thursday night, when the lights go down and the music comes up, Ehrlich will be just off stage â€œworking big time.â€
â€œAt that point itâ€™s really my directorâ€™s show,â€ he says, â€œbut Iâ€™m right there, working with the acts, giving it one last shot.â€
â€œVHI Honorsâ€ will be telecast live from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow, Rachel and Phoebe respectively on the hit NBC sitcom â€œFriends,â€ will host the affair.
Meâ€™Shell NdegeOcello, Herbie Hancock, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Kathy Mattea will give special musical performances, and with the exception of Michael Jackson,â€™ all honorees will perform.
Honorees and the organizations for which they work are as follows: Boyz II Men, Big Brothers-Big Sisters of America; Vince Gill, Oklahoma City Victims and Families Relief Fund; Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston Foundation for Children; Jackson, Heal the World; Annie Lennox,Â Ropka Charitable Trust for Tibet; Bette Midler. Manhattan Restoration Project; the Red Hot Organization, which benefits AIDS education and relief; and Smokey Robinson, United Negro College Fund.