Spurred on by the June mass shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston that left nine worshippers dead, A+E Networks and IHeartMedia are presenting a concert special centered on race relations and inequality in the U.S. Its working title: “Shining a Light: A Concert for Progress on Race in America.”
The event will take place at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. on November 18 and will be broadcast as a 2-hour special two days later. Headliners include: Bruce Springsteen, Ed Sheeran, Jamie Foxx, Sia, Zac Brown Band, Pharrell, Sting, John Legend, Miguel, P!nk, and Jill Scott. (More performers should be announced within a few weeks.)
After the concert, A+E will air an hour-long special, “Conversations on Race in America,” in which some of the artists from the concert, including Pharrell and Legend, discuss violence and racial inequality with residents of Charleston, Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago. The idea is for the musicians to engage in a dialogue with people in these communities “with varying perspectives, including family members of victims, community leaders, law enforcement officials, clergy and organizations seeking to empower communities by fostering understanding, eliminating bias and addressing inequities that break along racial lines,” according to A+E’s statement.
“The current racial situation in America is at a critical point,” the event’s executive producer, Ken Ehrlich, said in a statement. “Today’s musical artists, much like those of the civil rights movement’s history, have strong feelings about what’s going on today, and we’re hopeful that ‘Shining a Light’ does, in fact, give a voice to their concerns, their hopes and their thinking about solutions to the alarming events that we see around us every day.”
There’s a way to read this as something so small in the face of something so huge — a concert to cure racism, okay, sure — but it makes more sense, and feels more empowering, to think of this concert, and events like it, as fitting into the larger history of musicians engaging in social and political issues. People go to concerts to dance, to think about nothing, to get drunk, to make out, to dance some more. But people also go to concerts for a kind of awakening, to hear a call to arms from musicians who express something that feels authentic, urgent, and true.
While it seems like the variety of artists is intended, in part, to hit every genre (multiple modes of pop and rock are duly represented, Zac Brown Band checks the country box, and so on) a handful of these musicians are already known for being outspoken about race, discrimination, and violence in America. Along with Common, John Legend won an Oscar this year for “Glory,” the anthem to Selma. During his acceptance speech, Legend quoted Nina Simone — “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live” — and went on to say, “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say: Selma is now.”
Springsteen, as has been noted on this site before, likely has a star-spangled bat signal in his house summoning him to the stage in moments of national crisis. His “American Skin (41 Shots)” was originally written in response to the death of Amadou Diallo, who was 22 years old when he was shot and killed by the police in 1999, but he’s played the song since while on tour with the E Street band, reviving it in 2012 in the aftermath of the shooting of Trayvon Martin and again days after George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict came down. The NAACP honored him with a Humanitarian Community Service Award in 2000.
“Shining a Light” will air at 8 p.m. on all A+E channels (so that’s A+E as well as Lifetime, History, H2, LMN and FYI) along with iHeartMedia radio stations and digital platforms across the country. The program will raise money for the Fund for Progress on Race in America powered by United Way Worldwide, as well as support Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. A+E’s announcement indicates the show should “kick off” a campaign across its channels to “confront issues of race” and “promote unity and progress on racial equality.”