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Queen Latifah, Janelle Monae attend Alvin Ailey’s opening night gala in NYC

Queen Latifah, Janelle Monae attend Alvin Ailey's opening night gala in NYC
Gala co-chair Daria L. Wallach, honorary chair Queen Latifah, gala honoree Debra Lee, and art. dir. Robert Battle. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

On Thursday, Nov. 30 Ailey’s opening night gala benefit launches five-week holiday engagement at New York City Center.

Last night, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s holiday season at New York City Center kicked off with a star-studded Opening Night Gala Benefit performance and party that honored Ailey board president Debra L. Lee (chairman and chief executive officer of BET Networks) for her support of the Ailey organization since 2002. Music and film stars Queen Latifah and Janelle Monáe served as honorary chairs for the evening, and the gala co-chairs were Deedra and Bob Bakish, Emily and Len Blavatnik, Paulette and Howard Bradnock, Daria L. and Eric J. Wallach, and Joan and Sandy Weill. Over $2.4 million was raised in support of the creation of new works, scholarships to The Ailey School, and Ailey’s extensive educational programs for young people.

“We in New York are most fortunate to have in our midst a company like the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, that there are works like Revelations that uplifts us,” said Gala honoree Debra Lee. “We need to keep this wonderful legacy alive. I am fortunate to have a position at BET where every day I can shine a light on our culture, our art, and our beauty.”

The “Modern American Songbook” one-night-only program featured excerpts of dynamic performances set to music by icons Otis Redding (George Faison’s “Suite Otis”); Stevie Wonder (“Love Stories” by Judith Jamison, Robert Battle, and Rennie Harris); Ray Charles (Camille Brown’s “The Groove to Nobody’s Business”); and Earth, Wind and Fire (David Parson’s “Shining Star”). The gala performance concluded with Alvin Ailey’s timeless masterpiece “Revelations,” performed with live musicians and singers.

Honorary chair Queen Latifah remarked, “This company is forward-thinking, it’s now, it’s fresh, and it’s exciting. It’s everything Judith Jamison wanted when she handed over the reigns to [Robert Battle].”

Special guests from the worlds of business, politics, entertainment, and philanthropy included Wallis Annenberg, George Faison, Lion Babe’s Jillian Hervey and Lucas Goodman, Judith Jamison, Sheinelle Jones, Glorya Kaufman, Janet Mock, David Parsons, Dr. Ian K. Smith, Lara Spencer, Susan Taylor, Cicely Tyson, and Elaine Wynn. After the performance, the celebration continued at the Hilton New York’s Grand Ballroom where approximately 1,000 guests joined artistic director Robert Battle and the stars of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for dinner and dancing with live music by the premier band Élan Artists.

Throughout December, Ailey’s 32 extraordinary dancers will unveil three world premieres, three new productions, and a variety of returning favorites, classics, and special programs. The company will continue to inspire audiences across North America with a 21-city tour beginning in January 2018. For more information, visit

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