RECAP: George Clinton, Living Colour + Meryl Streep Join Forces To Support Funk Pioneer Bernie Worrell
Photos by Kenneth St. George for Okayplayer
Last night, Webster Hall was a haven of love, funk, respect and plenty of “woos,” as friends and admirers came to honor Bernie Worrell at his benefit concert. Worrell, 71, shocked and alarmed millions after it was announced that he was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. The disease had metastasized to his liver and pleural areas making it apparent that the “Wizard of Woo” is in need of assistance.
Black Rock Coalition, Nona Hendryx—who has known Worrell for decades—and others helped to organize the event. With more than 70 artists—legends actually—coming from all over to perform and support, I was already impressed with the lineup when the flyer was sent to my inbox by our illustrious Ginny Suss. As the goal was to raise $75,000 for his medical fees, upon entering into the place formerly known (yet still called) as “The Ritz,” I witnessed items from music’s greats being auctioned off to help facilitate the need.
Tickets for Monday’s extravaganza were not costly, clocking in at $100 for a meet-and-greet, $50 for general admission in advance and $60 on the day of the show. After waiting in line for what seemed like forever due to the weather, myself and our photographer, Kenneth St. George, walked in and found us in the meet-and-greet area surrounded by music history, stars and the vibe of old New York staring us in the face. Seeing signed posters from The Rolling Stones, a guitar autographed by Carlos Santana and a super-cool throwback photo of Bernie, George Clinton and Bootsy Collins made me wish I made more money in my life.
Fast forward to the actual showcase, and Webster Hall quickly became packed to the gills with people all needing, wanting the funk. Names such as Paul Shaffer; Rick Springfield; David Byrne; Sarah Dash of Labelle; our magnanimous leader Questlove; New York’s own Living Colour and Fred Schneider of the B-52s were in attendance, on-stage and singing (literally) the praises of Bernie Worrell.
What we’ve been seeing with our stars and artists over the past few years is that they were having trouble financially paying for their medical expenses. Thinking of so many acts who have had global success, yet end up with very little and unable to take care of themselves is upsetting. And then they pass away, leaving fans, family and friends to just perform a memorial for them after the fact. No, Monday night’s event was not only attempt to circumvent that trend, but to also give Bernie Worrell his flowers while he can still smell them.
The outpouring of love and appreciation was really, as stars from the past and present all told their favorite Bernie Worrell stories and joked with him while he was watching from a loft above the stage. Two of the craziest moments before the closing act — where George and Bootsy blew the roof off the muthasucka — came when Meryl-friggin’-Streep stepped out to support her Ricky and the Flash co-star with an introduction to “Jesse’s Girl” singer, Rick Springfield. The second one was when Living Colour, a legendary rock band from New York, came out and absolutely destroyed the stage.
The night ended perfectly with people commenting just how important it was to pay tribute to the man who crafted All the Woo in the World, “Flashlight” and “Give Up the Funk.” Declaring our love for him in a building that has housed sonically supreme talents (such as Bernie Worrell) was a powerful groove that proved music does heal. Special thanks goes from me and Okayplayer to Nona Hendryx, a driving force behind the event, and the Black Rock Coalition. Without driving your eyes into the back of your head, we encourage you to check out these performances from last night’s show below and support the Bernie Worrell Fund that has been set up by Sweet Relief.
Video shot by Kevin L. Clark + Ginny Suss for Okayplayer
To learn more about the Sweet Relief x Bernie Worrell Fund, please head over to the site for information.