Kool & the Gang were named as the 2019 recipients of the Marian Anderson Award during a news conference at the Liberté Lounge at the Sofitel hotel on Rittenhouse Square on Wednesday morning.
The longtime R&B group is celebrating 50 years of playing together. The group will receive the honor at the annual award gala and concert in November.
"We felt it was fitting to recognize a group that has brought love and joy and everything good that Marian Anderson represented in her life and work,” said Dyana R. Williams, gala chair for the Marian Anderson Award. “This is the group that has brought us the soundtrack to your life. Songs that were familiar to you when you were falling in love, or going to parties or family reunions, or anything that was festive and grand; this group has delivered to us for 50 years.”
Started in 1998 and named in honor of the Philadelphia-born African American contralto, the Marian Anderson Award celebrates acclaimed musicians with ties to the city whose creative or philanthropic contributions have had a significant societal impact.
The group joins the ranks of previous award winners including Harry Belafonte, Elizabeth Taylor, Quincy Jones, Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier, Richard Gere, Maya Angelou, Berry Gordy, and Jon Bon Jovi.
“Receiving an award [honoring] Marian Anderson on our 50th anniversary means so much to us,” Kool & the Gang said in a statement. “Philadelphia played such an integral part in our early career. We would not be where we are without the city of Philadelphia, or as we called it back in the day, ‘Funky Philly.'”
Performing since 1969, the multi-genre group has garnered two Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, and a BET Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award, along with earning 25 Top 10 R&B hits, nine Top 10 Pop hits, and 31 gold and platinum albums.
Kool & the Gang, which produced such hits as “Celebration,” “Cherish,” and “Jungle Boogie,” has also earned the distinction of being one of music’s most sampled R&B groups. From drum beats to horn lines, the group’s signature sound has been featured in tracks by the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Madonna, and Janet Jackson.
The band has a long history of raising awareness for, donating to, and being involved with charitable causes, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Haiti Relief, Kids X-press, Wounded Warrior Project, and the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.
Last year, the rapper and actress Queen Latifah was named the award’s 20th-anniversary recipient for her longtime efforts in furthering women’s and LGBTQ rights. But citing “personal reasons,” Latifah and the award were unable to hold a gala last year.
Marian Anderson Award recipients are selected based on their embodiment of the opera singer and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner’s creative work and social legacy. "We always look at icons like Marian Anderson as the shoulders on which we stand,” said Willa Hightower, award board chair. “She really blazed a trail during a time when we weren’t welcome. We couldn’t walk through the front door. So what we want to do for the African American community is provide hope and opportunity and possibility.”
Growing up in South Philadelphia, where she performed with her church and studied under esteemed singers and classical instructors, Anderson faced several career challenges on the basis of her race. The most famous was being denied by the Daughters of the American Revolution the ability to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington. In response, Anderson performed in a 1939 open-air concert at the Lincoln Memorial, organized with the aid of Eleanor Roosevelt and NAACP leadership.
Throughout her decades-long career, her achievements included becoming a U.S. Department of State special envoy to the Far East and the first African American to perform with the Metropolitan Opera, singing at John F. Kennedy’s presidential inauguration, and winning a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Held for the fourth year at the Kimmel Center and newly overseen by Gregory Murphy, the award’s former board vice chair and now interim executive director, the Marian Anderson Award Gala and Concert, which will take place on Nov. 12, also works to further social and creative causes.
The award’s Young Artist Study-Grant Program, an initiative assisting “financially challenged high school-aged artists from throughout the Greater Philadelphia area,” seeks to replicate the spirit of support Anderson received throughout her career.