The pouring rain didn’t stop the money from pouring in. And the party tent that partially collapsed during the VIP reception? That didn’t dampen the mood (well, not by much) either.
“This is the most successful benefit we’ve had since 1994,” said Peggy Cooper Cafritz, co-founder of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts which raised $1.2 million through its annual “Performance Series of Legends” benefit concert at the Strathmore on Wednesday night amid unruly weather and equally unpredictable rock star schedules. Stevie Wonder, who was scheduled to perform alongside headliner Sting and his “very special guest” Paul Simon, wouldn’t be in the building. Wonder had to fly to Michigan because of a death in the family.
The disappointment was palpable during the pre-concert reception where whispers of “Stevie isn’t coming,” and “I hear someone got hurt” abounded over heavy plates of macaroni and cheese. “But we still have Sting!” chimed in Cooper Cafritz, whose date for the night, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) was surprised the young crowd could rattle off Sting and Paul Simon hits, “Nooo, you’re too young.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said he was looking forward to the headliners’ musical performance – but he was just as excited to hear the kids who could go on to be megastars in their own right. “A lot of kids who go through Ellington go on to be great successes,” he said. “Basically, I’m a big fan.”
Once folks got over the fact that Wonder was elsewhere, the difficult task of rocking out with Sting, Simon and a group of impossibly talented high school students got under way.
Dressed in leather leggings too tight for men a third his age but just right for a rock star, 62-year-old Sting began with the 80s classic “Englishman in New York” and the Duke Ellington School’s choir filled in as backup. “What are you guys doing tomorrow night?” he joked afterward. The crowd didn’t wait long for Sting to introduce his “great friend, teacher and mentor” Simon. The cellphones came out when the two sang Sting’s “Brand New Day” and then Simon’s “The Boxer.”
But the nostalgia couldn’t run completely wild, reined in as it was by an a cappella rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by the Duke Ellington School’s choir that literally took everyone’s breath away. It would have overshadowed Sting’s closing classic “Every Breath You Take” if not for students continuing to sing their hearts out in the background. A place most of them shouldn’t get used to.
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