Bono, Nile Rodgers Thrill With U2 Hits at Benefit Concert
Bono surprised a New York audience Friday night when he jumped off the stage at the Hammerstein Ballroom midway into “Mysterious Ways.” It was the last song in a short set of U2 tunes that the singer was performing with Nile Rodgers and Chic at the We Are Family Foundation gala, and the revelers – most of whom had left their $1,500-a-plate tables to dance up front – made an easy path for him. He stopped midway through the room, climbed on a chair and belted the song’s lyrics about how the “spirit moves in mysterious ways.” Then, in just a few strides, he made his own mysterious way out of the building – but not without speaking the night’s motto as Rodgers’ guitar rang out the song’s final notes: “We are family.”
Rodgers and his wife, Nancy Hunt, put the event together to raise money for the We Are Family Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that aims to promote a “global family” by focusing on educating young adults about respect and diversity. Early in evening, the Chic guitarist said his goal was to raise $1 million for the Foundation, which they ultimately accomplished with an auction, but the event as a whole also seemed like a celebration of creativity and compassion.
In addition to Bono, whose efforts to combat poverty in Africa and AIDS around the world, the event honored President Jimmy Carter, who accepted a “Peacemaker” award named after a young poet he once befriended, Mattie Stepanek, who had died at age 13 in 2004 after a battle with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. Between Bono’s moves and Carter’s moving speech, it was a gala full of surprises.
At the beginning of the evening, Rodgers stepped up to the podium holding a Stratocaster and began to tell the story of how he’d written “We Are Family,” after using a sequence of chords he’d heard in a song by Children of God. “I only play that as an example that you can get an idea, and it just germinates and it blossoms and it grows – especially if you care and you have a big heart,” he told the crowd. “That’s what we stand for.” Throughout the night, he and Hunt demonstrated that philosophy as they welcomed “youth ambassadors” to discuss how the organization had benefited them.
One young person who was involved with the We Are Family Foundation from its inception was Mattie Stepanek, whose mother Jeni gave a passionate speech about her son’s admiration for Carter. Mattie had become infatuated with Carter and wanted to emulate his peaceful philosophies, and he got to share a friendship with the president a few years before his death. When Carter spoke, he dedicated his touching speech to Stepanek’s memory. He talked about how the last three years of his young companion’s life had affected him greatly (“It was a valuable friendship, an enjoyable friendship and it grew day by day,” he said) to the point that when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, he said he felt like Stepanek shared the honor with him.
“I’ve known many famous people: kings and queens, great scientists, presidents, prime minister,” he said. “I’ve known Mother Teresa. Nelson Mandela was a great friend of mine. We spent many times together. But I can tell you without equivocation that the most remarkable human being I’ve ever known was Mattie Stepanek.”
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