Wayne Brady emceed the star-studded Ebony Power 100 gala, guiding the evening with the steady confidence of a multi-hyphenate entertainer, but even the industry veteran got emotional when he was presented the Vanguard Award by his adopted Hollywood dad, entertainment icon Ben Vereen.
Before the hundreds gathered in the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, Vereen praised Brady for his “action, for innovation, for invention, for keeping the heads above the water for us to look up to be inspired by,” preaching that “not only is he a great entertainer, he’s a great father.”
As Brady came to the stage to accept the award, he admitted he prepared a speech, promising his remarks would be short, “simply because I didn’t know if I could make it through.”
The actor, comedian and TV personality recounted his childhood growing up in Orlando, Florida. “I didn’t know how one gets from your house playing in your backyard, being the weird kid playing by yourself, coming up with things using your mind — I didn’t know how to go from being that kid until I saw this man on TV,” Brady said, getting a little choked up at the memory.
Watching Vereen in “Pippin,” plus Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole, gave Brady the confidence to go after his dreams of being a performer. And years later, he was able to tell Vereen (his “spiritual father”) how much he’d inspired him, repeating those sentiments Saturday night.
“Fast forward to me being in this room, because there were times when — I’ll be honest with you — I think I’ve been told — and maybe some of in the room thought it — that I wasn’t Black enough to be in Hollywood, but guess what, I’m right here just like y’all,” he continued, thanking the publication for recognizing his him despite even his own feelings of imposter syndrome.
“A vanguard goes forth in war and leads with truth, but I guess a vanguard doesn’t know they’re a vanguard, they just know that they’re stumbling through trying to make their way,” he concluded. “Then when they look back, they go, ‘Oh, I did that? Cool.’”
Other Power 100 honorees in attendance included Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr., Entertainment Tonight’s Nischelle Turner, CNN’s Abby Phillip, Questlove, spelling bee champ Zaila Avant-garde, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett (the innovator of the year award honoree, who led development on the Moderna vaccine), Big Freedia, MC Lyte, Congresswoman Cori Bush, Tomi Adeyemi, Deon Jones, Trae Tha Truth, Leisl Tommy and Erica Campbell (who performed her new song “Positive”). Presenters included Holly Robinson Peete, London Hughes, Cynthia Bailey, Salt of hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa, Tai Beauchamp, Estelle, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Mikki Taylor and Jason Lee.
On the red carpet, Campbell described the Class of 2021 as a whole, telling Variety that the group “represents inspiration and aspiration. Conquerors and victorious people, who are honest enough to tell their stories good, bad, or whatever.”
Ebony editor-in-chief Marielle Bobo, agreed noting that year’s list honored “unsung heroes.”
“We were really intentional about honoring people this year that hadn’t been on the list prior,” Bobo explained. “It really meant a lot for us to celebrate the next generation, as well as those who’ve been doing it for a while.”
Emmy winner Tamron Hall spoke on behalf of the journalism honorees, thanking Ebony not only for the recognition but for the generations of reporters and writers, correspondents and anchors, newspeople and commentators that the magazine has inspired.
“I would not be a journalist, and none of the journalists that you’ve seen here on this list, we wouldn’t have the power to speak in rooms that don’t want to hear us were it not for Ebony,” Hall began. “We are having a conversation this week, again, on why Black and brown children aren’t the headlines when they’re missing. Were it not for Ebony, we wouldn’t have the courage, to say, ‘It stops now.’”
“We will say their names, and they will be the lead story, and we will honor Jelani Day as we do any other person,” she continued. “So thank you from all the journalists who read Ebony and Jet magazine, and said, ‘I can do that too.”
On the red carpet, Hall expanded on her comments about the legacy of Ebony, which she called the “Bible of Black excellence.”
“Whether it was in our homes growing up or in the beauty salon, or in the back of a car, you’d get in and say, ‘Who’s on the cover of Ebony?” This is the standard bearer of our history,” Hall said, adding that it’s “surreal” for her to see her name on the list. “This is the type of experience I want to share with my son and show him that everyone on this list is part of his fabric, his journey and to celebrate the rich culture of the Black experience.”
Entertainer of the year honors went to the women of “Red Table Talk,” with Adrienne Banfield-Norris accepting on behalf of co-hosts — her daughter Jada Pinkett Smith and granddaughter Willow Smith.
“We are proud to be acknowledged by our own,” Banfield-Norris began. “‘Red Table Talk’ is Jada’s baby and it was always Jada’s vision that our many-generational conversation be a catalyst towards healing, change, tolerance and understanding through conversations that are difficult and challenging. We thank the highest for allowing us to leave a positive impact on our community.”
The lifetime achievement award went to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who were first honored with a tribute message from their longtime collaborator Janet Jackson before Grammy-nominated singer Major presented them with their award. The duo received a standing ovation as they took the stage to be celebrated for their achievements in music and culture.
“For me, Lifetime Achievement isn’t a place to stop, it’s a bar that’s high and we’re going to continue to try to raise that bar every day that we’re living,” Jimmy Jam said, taking the mic first.
“I’m just going to do the happy dance and say, ‘Mamma, I made it,’” Lewis added stomping on the stage. “My mom used to bang on the floor and she used to stomp her feet three times — [yelling,] ’Turn that shit down’ — because we were down there making noise, trying to learn to make music. Those are the shoulders we stand on tonight, the people who poured into us.”
Janet Jackson also had a special surprise for the honorees in the NextGen category, as presenter Tia Mowry announced that the entertainer had gifted those winners with tickets to one of her upcoming tour stops.
To end the evening — which also featured performances by Major, Justine Skye and Lucky Daye — Ebony owner Eden Bridgeman-Sklenar and CEO Michele Ghee announced that the magazine would enter the cryptocurrency space. As part of the new initiative, planned for early 2022, Ebony will partner with Black artists to create products under the symbol EBONY X, leveraging their archives of Black history to create NFT products. More information can be found at ebony.com/Crypto.