Members of the entertainment industry came together to celebrate 50 years of City of Hope, 50 years of hip-hop and the 40-year career of music executive Lyor Cohen at the annual Spirit of Life Gala at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles Wednesday night. Sixteen artists took to the stage during a special DJ Cassidy Pass the Mic Live! segment at the sold-out event, which counted Jay Z, Diddy, Jermaine Dupri and other A-listers among its 900 guests.
City of Hope’s Music, Film and Entertainment Industry (MFEI) fundraising group raised more than $4.3 million to address racial and socioeconomic inequities in cancer treatment and prevention at the event, adding to the more than $150 million MFEI has raised over City of Hope’s 50-year history. The focus on improving cancer outcomes for communities of color is what moved Cohen, who started out managing artists at Def Jam Records before co-founding his own independent label, 300 Entertainment, and now serving as Global Head of Music at YouTube and Google, to accept the invitation to be honored.
“A few of my artists and colleagues started getting sick, so I felt maybe it’s now time for me to get out of my own way and not look at this as being about me, but using my name and the opportunity to raise money and awareness for all the great work that the hospital is doing,” Cohen tells The Music news. “I made my career in Black music so when they told me that they would and are spending enormous amounts of money and resources to close the equity gap between people of color and white people — the numbers are staggering, and they don’t have to be that way.”
Auctioneer Letitia Frye served as the MC for the evening which opened with remarks from MFEI Board President and President of Universal Music Publishing Group Evan Lamberg. The gala set out to raise $700,000 towards City of Hope’s initiative to launch mobile units in healthcare deserts in Los Angeles that would allow up to 4,000 people to receive cancer screenings. A $100,000 pledge from Coachella was matched by Diddy who started off the bidding in the room. Rapper and actor Ludacris later pledged an additional $100,000.
At 9 p.m. DJ Cassidy took over the evening for Pass the Mic Live!, declaring, “Tonight is a celebration of hip-hop, a celebration of life, a celebration of hope, and a celebration of love.” The performance began at the origin of hip-hop with Slick Rick, Kurtis Blow, Big Daddy Kane, and MC Serch, followed by a journey through decades of hip-hop and R&B with Nice & Smooth, EPMD, Redman, Onyx, Warren G, Domino, Musiq Soulchild, Dru Hill, Ja Rule, T.I. and Swizz Beatz taking to the stage.
Public Enemy closed out the segment with a verse of “Fight the Power” and were joined by the other performers. “A lot of us on this stage were grateful to you at some point in our careers,” Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav of Cohen.
Chuck D presented Cohen with the night’s honor, saying, “City of Hope and what they are talking about is something that changes the world. The fact that Lyor is associated with something that will change the world for the better — to be able to cure and kick cancer in the fucking ass — makes it even more important that this City of Hope award goes to Lyor Cohen who knows his accountability and responsibility. Lyor, this award is for you but you’re bigger than this.”
Cohen — who has born in New York to Israeli immigrants — took a moment to acknowledge the current war in Israel while accepting the award. “We came here to help eradicate cancer, but wouldn’t it be great if we could also eradicate hate?” he said. “What happened on Oct. 7 will never be forgotten. The brutality, the slaughtering of innocent children, women and men, just because they were Jewish. It’s an act of terrorism and barbarianism. That’s not open for debate. Many are still being held captive as we speak. I want them returned to their families.
“I’m so sorry to hijack this special event to express my feelings as a human just as I expressed them when injustices happen to anyone targeted because of their race or religion or sexual identity. We don’t have time for what about-ism. My heart goes out to all the Palestinian people in the region that has had to endure unnecessary loss of life. I pray for peace.”
After acknowledging his family who joined him at the gala, including his wife, children, and 93-year-old mother, Cohen expressed his appreciation for what he considers a “lucky life” and thanked the industry who has supported him through it.
“I was going to speak of gratitude for the lifetime of colleagues that came to work and endured through a driven and committed person. OK, most would say I’m completely crazy, irrational, and never give up,” he said. “Thank you. Thank you all for a lifetime of tolerance and kindness and unwavering belief in the mission. I sit on the shoulders of giants.”
Following the award presentation, LL Cool J and DJ Jazzy Jeff closed the night with a surprise performance as executives at City of Hope turned their attention back to the cause at hand.
“Cancer doesn’t stop, philanthropy doesn’t stop,” Kristin Bertell, Chief Philanthropy Officer at City of Hope,” tells THR. “After tonight, tomorrow we start all over again.”