Samuel L. Jackson was scheduled to be in Washington for the Martin Luther King memorial dedication six weeks ago, but most of the events were canceled because of Hurricane Irene. Jackson can’t make it for Sunday’s postponed ceremony because he’s starring as the civil rights leader in “The Mountaintop” on Broadway.
Now that’s a good excuse! But it’s also the problem with celebrities: You have to plan way ahead to fit into their busy, busy lives — and once that window closes, it’s tough to get them back.
So most of the stars who came to D.C. in August — or planned to fly in for the Aug. 28 dedication with President Obama — won’t be here this weekend.
“There was a significant amount of energy that was put into the original dedication date,” journalist Roland Martin told us. Plenty of VIPs who planned to attend can’t make it now: “It’s no surprise that with the rescheduling, you’re not going to see the same number of commitments. The overall event is downsized. Everything has been scaled back.”
Original plans called for several parties and concerts, including a black-tie donor dinner with Lionel Richie and public concert on the Mall. Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Berry Gordy, Jr., George Lucas, Jamie Foxx and Clarence Avant agreed to be celebrity co-chairs, according to Harry Johnson, president of the memorial foundation. But then the hurricane, with life-threatening winds and flooding, caused organizers to cancel the party just two days before the formal dedication.
Now Aretha is the only confirmed star to return for Sunday’s ceremony. The Queen of Soul called off a concert in Durham, N.C. this weekend in order to attend the dedication — much to the displeasure of local fans there. Declared the Raleigh News & Observer: “Well, it was bound to happen: Aretha Franklin has stood up the Triangle yet again, for the fourth time. . . at least this time, there’s a plausible excuse.”
Another problem: Some of the celebrities already made appearances at the start of the five-day celebration and aren’t likely to repeat. Wonder and India Arie performed at a global leaders gala on Aug. 24 (moved from the National Building Museum to the convention center because of damage caused by the earthquake the day before); Patti LaBelle and Eddie Levert sang the following night, and Phylicia Rashad and Avery Brooks headlined a theatrical performance Friday of MLK’s early years. Then everyone left town or took cover.
Some VIPs are still trying to be here this weekend, said Martin (he’s hosting Saturday’s dinner and a segment of Sunday’s ceremony.) The final lineup probably won’t be known until Sunday morning.
No one from the memorial foundation returned our request for comment Monday.