Chris Cornell was posthumously awarded Human Rights Watch’s inaugural Promise Award at a Los Angeles gala Tuesday, with System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, Soundgarden‘s Kim Thayil and Matt Cameron and Cornell’s widow Vicky Cornell on hand to honor the late singer.
“We’re here tonight to honor a compassionate, just and gentle human being who I had the great pleasure to call my friend, Chris Cornell,” Tankian said. “His voice was always honest, caring and real. It’s difficult to successfully lie through art. The man himself was always honest, caring and real.”
Tankian also talked about Cornell’s theme song for The Promise, a 2016 film about the Armenian genocide. “When Chris learned that all the proceeds from the film were ultimately going to be donated to charitable organizations, he also made the decision to donate all of his proceeds from the song to support refugees and children.”
Tankian then presented the Promise Award to Thayil, Cameron and Vicky Cornell, who delivered an acceptance speech on behalf of her late husband.
“The last thing in the world I thought I’d be doing is standing here tonight without my husband,” Vicky Cornell said. “He should be here to accept this tremendous honor and to see his vision coming to fruition. Chris’ musical legacy has been cemented because of the incredible work he created for the world.”
Vicky Cornell also talked about her husband’s often-anonymous philanthropic work, his desire to make “a positive impact in this world” and the couple’s foundation, which aims to help children.
She added, “Chris has received every type of musical honor, but to being included with this group of genuine friends, human rights activists, philanthropists and colleagues would have made him so proud.”
The gala also marked the first time Cornell’s Soundgarden bandmates Thayil and Cameron spoke on camera together since the singer’s May 18th death. In an instantaneous interview, the duo talked about Cornell’s activism with Human Rights Watch:
“I think Chris particularly emphasized in his solo work, many of his individual work, dealing with exploitation of the most vulnerable,” Thayil said. “Perhaps motivated by anything from outrage and concern from what we’d hear in the news to just general distaste for cruelty.”
Cameron added, “We’re certainly trying to make the world better with art. So I think that’s one way that we can start the dialogue and process of trying to connect with issues that are always important to us.”
In 2016, Chris Cornell told Rolling Stone of “The Promise,” “It’s from the perspective of someone singing to an older family member who is no longer around but was kind of a mentor. And it’s a concept that ties into what he learned about the preciousness of photographs of loved ones to people who had suffered during the genocide, a feeling among those who were affected that transcends age. It shows that a promise was made to the older generation and then telling them that they’re the inspiration.”