By Lea Michelle Cash –
Twenty years ago, Sheryl Lee Ralph was told as if it was yesterday, that her special event to raise money for HIV/AIDS was foul and “those people” cannot be helped. She was told that it was a waste of time and to STOP because it is “those people’s” problem…. and that God would not find favor in her actions. Those people meaning gays and homosexuals.
This year at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, a teary-eyed Ralph stated, “I remember the people who could have helped. But didn’t. She has forgiven and is grateful for every ticket bought, every donation made, and red ribbons worn on t-shirts purchased. Over the years, divas from Patti Labelle, Whoopi Goldberg to Melissa Manchester has stood with her lifting their voices in song to fight the good fight against AIDS.
In her presence, after a fewmore words about HIV/AIDS, and how women are one of the fastest growing groups catching AIDS (especially women of color), in a beautiful flowing gown Ralph belts out the classic show tune “Try to Remember.” The audience is spellbound, and perhaps like many in the audience, I let my tears drop and remembered.
I was there for the first Annual Divas Simply Singing, and over the years, I have only missed two. For the 15th Annual Diva Simply Singing, I assisted Ralph as a volunteer in production. I was welcomedwith open arms and I worked, but mostly watched this extraordinary woman wi th her whole heart bring cast and crew together. Producing andwriting a magical evening of song was no easy challenge and the process was difficult. However, when the curtain openedon that Saturday in October 2005 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, there stood this beautiful, poised woman, as though she had not lifted a finger— utterly remarkable and ready to sing and sing she did. I cried then too!
Six years later, 2010, I could only imagine what it must be like to continue this fight against HIV/AIDS. There is no cure, no vaccine as of yet. DIVAS Simply Singing is the longest consecutive running musical AID benefit in theUnitedStates andcontinues to serve as a loving beacon of hope for those living with HIV/AIDS. Twenty years ago, Ralph produced DIVAS (Divinely Inspired, Victoriously Anointed Singers) in loving memory of the many friends that she lost to AIDS and today, the disease has l i terally devastat ing consequences that affected us all. The numbers are in double digits that I have known and loss.
In this year’s, show along with the fabulous other divas there were performances by mothers and daughters. Teena Marie, the artist “Lady Tee” performed in the second Annual Divas Simply Singing. She was pregnant with her daughterAlia Rose. After Lady Tee tenderly sings her classic “Déjà vu I Been Here Before”, out steps her beautiful daughter Alia.
The two sing their tribute song to New Orleans and Haiti. Coco Maurice imitates her mother Sheryl Lee’s booming voice and Shanice Wilson and her mother Crystal Wilson sends the entire theatre into a frenzy with their truly amazing voices.
Other divas were Kelly Price, who aroused the audience with her gospel and hip/hop flare. Jody Wat ley, Desiree Coleman- Jackson Deborah Cox, Loretta Devine, Coko, Gloria Loring, and Judge Glenda Hatchett just to name a few. The charismatic Lisa Raye McCoy was on hand and motivated the audience in passing around the hat. For two years in a row, she has been voted in Black Men Magazine’s “Sexiest Woman of the Year”. She entertained the audience with thoughts of having dinner with her for a donation. A gentleman in the audience, ran to the stage, held out his credi t card, and paid $5,000.00. He was celebrated for donating to the cause. The audience gave him a standing ovation. Pauletta Washington, a singer and classically trained pianist (married to Denzel) stepped out to support DIVAS as wel l by sharing her beaut iful voice in song.
It was most memorable and sobering when a long line of women from all ethnicities introduced themselves to the audience.
They each have been infected with AIDS. Their faces reflected those of all women—somebody’s mother, sister, aunt , or bestfriend.
It was too moving—too in your face about how this terrible disease affects women’s lives. It is reported that every 9-½ minutes, someone in the US, someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, co-worker or friend becomes infected with HIV.
There was a surprise guest and she came at the end of the evening. It was Chaka Khan. If the magical evening of song and entertainment benefit ing the DIVA Foundat ion and Women Alive Coalition did not take your heart, and twist it into a million different directions during the night, by the time Chaka Khan strolled out; your emotions completely fell apart. There is no diva like Chaka!And the audience let her know it. Her voice in song soared. The final curtain call produced a collection of all the divas, with Chaka singing, “I’m Every Woman.”
The fight against HIV/AIDS is far from over and utilizing music and entertainment as a vehicle to inform and educate against the negative social perceptions of the life robbing disease is worthy of everyone support. Every year in the month of October, this special event is held with the intent of raising funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS. Until there’s a cure!