The O’Jays were honored with a lifetime achievement award Wednesday by the Congressional Black Caucus Spouses’ at the 5th Annual Celebration of Leadership in the Fine Arts on Wednesday.
“I have a thing about awards,” said Eddie Levert. “I think you should get awards when you’ve done something to help the world. When you’ve done something to help improve life and people, and when you just get awards just for singing – I do that for nothing. But if you’re making an impact and you’re changing people’s lives, I think that’s the biggest accomplishment you could ever have in life. Helping people.
But his partner, Walter Williams, chimed in: “Perhaps he doesn’t realize that our music [has] done that. And I hear people say that all the time how our music changed their lives. Even if it was only – someone got pregnant.”
The event was held at the National Museum of Women in the Arts Wednesday night. The scholarship event, held in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 41st Annual Legislative Conference, was emceed by restaurateur and lifestyle guru B. Smith and brought out several members, including Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Bennie Thompson of Texas and Mississippi, respectively.
Group members Walter Williams, Eric Grant, and Eddie Levert sat front row as a selection of the 20 scholarship recipients in both the visual and performing arts were recognized. There was a short musical performance by student James Clanton.
Many wanted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees to perform at least a few bars of “Use Ta Be My Girl.” Speeches would have to do.
“Seventeen years with the O’Jays and I get a lifetime achievement award,” said Grant, who was clearly pleased with his honor.
Levert had this to say: “I think we all have to do something special to receive awards. For whatever reason you gave us this award, I got it now and I ain’t giving it back.”
As guests began to part ways and accept their chocolate bar and Betty Crocker cornbread mix - laden gift bags on the way out the door, I caught up with the trio outside, where they waxed poetic about changing lives and leaving lasting impacts.
So first of all, congratulations.
Eric Grant - Thank you.
So you said you’ve only been with the group for 17 years – so you get to come in [and accept lifetime achievement awards]…
Grant - Yeah, that’s the good part, right? That’s hot! ‘Cause I came in, getting all these awards and stuff, so that’s cool.
Even though you have only been with the group for 17 years, what have you learned from performing with these music legends?
Grant - Just endurance, professionalism. That’s my professional answer. But really, l learned how to survive, how to be a man, how to be a father. These are real men, these guys right here, they practically raised me. Where I thought I was a man, I found out what real men do. Because these guys here, they are real dads, they are real friends, they are real fathers. They raised me – and that’s the real. I learned the other stuff as far as the entertainment part, but life lessons? They are the pioneers of that.
So you plan to stay in the group, right?
Grant - Oh I’m done, I’m here!
So I was listening to what you said, and you said that you wonder what you’ve done to receive an award. Why is it such a shock?
Eddie Levert - I have a thing about awards. I think you should get awards when you’ve done something to help the world. When you’ve done something to help improve life and people, and when you just get awards just for singing – I do that for nothing. But if you’re making an impact and you’re changing people’s lives, I think that’s the biggest accomplishment you could ever have in life. Helping people.
Walter Williams – Perhaps he doesn’t realize that our music [has] done that. And I hear people say that all the time how our music changed their lives. Even if it was only – someone got pregnant. (laughter)
Williams- And I hear that a lot!
Oh my goodness!
Williams - That’s the best compliment I’ve ever had. I hear it all the time – ‘My children were conceived on your music.’ I love it.
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