Solange Knowles recently became the first recipient of The Lena Horne Prize, a newly created award honoring artists who have made a significant social impact through their work. Knowles received the award at a ceremony held at New York City’s Town Hall on Friday (February 28th). The honor was created in partnership with Lena Horne’s family in which Horne’s daughter Gail Lumet Buckley, and granddaughter Jenny Lumet were in attendance.
Prior to Solange receiving her award, she was honored through speeches from Common, and representatives from the Houston based Project RowHouses organization, which received a $100,000 prize donation from Knowles. Solange also received a special tribute from her mother Tina Knowles Lawson. The Knockturnal spoke to Mrs. Knowles-Lawson on the red carpet in which she shared her advice for how mothers can instill values that could inspire their children to become motivators of social impact saying, “I think kids learn by example, so you have to be that. You have to show them that. At a very early age, I tried to expose them to the fact that you can make a difference, you need to give back, you don’t need to be all about self, and I just think that’s an important lesson.” Later in the evening while on stage, Tina spoke about how Solange’s love for helping people began when their family made a six-month commitment to feed the homeless after church on Sundays. Knowles-Lawson also shared how she was proud that Solange was receiving the award for her role as a human being with a helping heart which let her know her work as a mother has not been in vain.
A number of performers including Andra Day, Talib Kweli, BJ the Chicago Kid, Rapsody and Ifetayo Ali-Landing graced the stage to pay homage to Solange as well as honor Lena Horne’s legacy. Speaking on why Solange was fit to receive the Lena Horne Prize comedian Amber Ruffin commented, “It is weird how Solange and Lena Horne’s careers kind of mirror each other. Solange kind of jumped in with both feet and was like you know what I’m not afraid to make a change and I don’t care if people want me to stick to love songs or what they were expecting to get from me this is what you get and this is the truth. Because she told her truth she kind of told all of our truths.”
BJ the Chicago Kid who did a soulful rendition of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On added his own opinion as to why Knowles should have the honor saying, “The way she expresses her art, and the lengths she chooses to pass, not go to the lengths she goes to pass I think is so amazing. Her own identity with such a strong last name with such a strong family I think further shows the courage she has and the heart and desire that she has to be great. And to give us that greatness to share with the world, I think is amazing.” BJ The Chicago Kid also spoke on how he uses his own music to create social impact telling The Knockturnal, “Honestly [through] my music it’s always been a part of who I am. Being from Chicago it has always been a part of my sound actually. I’ll be releasing a new song in the next few days titled The People that will explain everything.” Ali-Landing who is a 17-year-old cellist performed an instrumental version of Solange’s Don’t Touch My Hair, while Rapsody performed her song Afeni as a celebration of black woman’s strength and empowerment.
In honoring Lena Horne’s legacy Horne’s granddaughter Jenny Lumet took the stage telling the audience, “If there is anything that future generations can take from her, it’s the example of personal evolution—something that not a lot of Black women from her day were allowed…. Her evolution was first inward, into self”. The Knockturnal spoke with Horne’s daughter, journalist and author Gail Lumet Buckley about how she sees her mother’s legacy present in today’s culture. Buckley told us, “I think it should be and could be gigantic and should be gigantic because she was very, very very positive about making today’s culture better. She certainly worked at it and I think her legacy is powerful. I think the legacy of any artist who gives back is powerful and she gave back.”
In opening the ceremony Common said about Horne, “Lena Horne was 100 percent that…Black woman — that mother, singer, actress, dancer, and activist who got mad… who asked questions… who stood up… who never, ever stopped evolving…”. Andra Day performed a rendition of Horne’s Stormy Weather. Talk show host Tamron Hall who honored Horne by wearing a bracelet and coat she purchased from an auction gave an anecdote about how she was willing to go into debt early in her career in order to buy the items that Horne once possessed.
In speaking to the culture of making a social impact through activism, Martin Luther King III spoke about his mother Coretta Scott King and focused in particular on discussing her “Freedom Concerts” which took place at Town Hall fifty-five years prior to Friday’s event, and King also stressed the importance of voting to create change. Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta who was reunited with Gail Lumet Buckley at the event after many years a part delivered a message to white supremacists that simply said: “Get over it.”.
As the evening drew to a close, Solange was presented The Lena Horne Prize by her friend visual artist Toyin Ojih Odutola who also paid tribute to her. Upon accepting the award Solange spoke about how captivated and inspired she was by seeing Lena Horne in the movie The Wiz at age 5, and how the film and Lena’s essence and spirit motivated continue to be ingrained in her life and career.