LOS ANGELES — The city launched its celebration of African American Heritage Month Feb. 7 at City Hall by honoring five-time Grammy Award-winning singer and actress Dionne Warwick with its Living Legend Award.
Other honorees at the event included Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David S. Cunningham III, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Patricia Jackson-Kelly and Noel Massie, president of U.S. operations for United Parcel Service.
Actor Lou Gossett Jr., best known for his Academy Award-winning role in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” and singer Freda Payne, whose hit single “Band of Gold” made No. 1 in the UK single charts in 1970, were also on hand.
Mayor Eric Garcetti presented the honor to Warwick whose work, he said, “connects people and most of all, speaks to our hearts.”
“I appreciate you considering me for this particular award, and will cherish it for the rest of my life and also it will find a prominent place in my home,” Warwick said, adding that she was “overwhelmed” by the recognition. “And as well, remember, keep smiling, keep shining, knowing you can always count on me. Why? [Because] that’s what friends are for.”
Over the course of Warwick’s long musical career, she has sold more than 100 million records, received accolades during the American Music and Billboard Music Awards in the 1980s, won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Female Singer in the 1960s, and much more.
Warwick was also the first U.S. Ambassador of Health and became the United Nations Global Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization.
City Councilman Curren Price Jr. presented Jackson-Kelly, who served a combined 26 years in the Army and Navy, the Hall of Fame Award. Her recognition was in line of this year’s Black History Month theme of “African Americans in War Times.”
“[Jackson-Kelly] has dedicated much of her life to making sure that women and men have all the resources they need to live their lives,” Price said.
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson presented Massie with a Hall of Fame Award for corporate achievement and Price introduced Cunningham for his contributions to the legal system.
“I’m happy to see all the people that I see here, and I think [the city council] has been on point with honoring everyone that has had the pleasure of being honored at this event,” Iris Gordy, former vice president of Motown Records, said after the awards ceremony.
General Jeff, a Skid Row community activist, said that political recognitions of African Americans’ contributions to this country are essential.
“[Black] efforts are so diminished, are belittled and most often overlooked, and it’s very important for the city of Los Angeles, that prides itself on diversity, to continue to acknowledge the contributions of African Americans,” Jeff said. “I think the city has done a wonderful job of hiring not just African Americans but people of color. … It’s really great that they make a concentrated effort not only for the hiring, but for events such as this.”
The celebration of African American Heritage Month, Garcetti said during the opening ceremony, is a commemoration of the link between the past and the future.
“Black History is our history,” the mayor said. “We are reminded of that every single day. This is a city that was founded by a majority of individuals who trace their ancestors back to Africa.”
During his speech, the mayor paid tribute to former Mayor Tom Bradley, whom he called “one of the greatest mayor’s the city’s ever had. … He taught us to come together.”
The celebration ended with an outdoor reception and live music.