Rolling Stone: Wyclef Benefit...

[From Rolling Stone]

Wyclef Takes Carnegie

Carnegie Hall opened its doors to a hip-hop party January 19th as Wyclef Jean   commandeered the stage, the first hip-hop act ever to headline the famed recital hall.

The concert, a benefit for the Wyclef Jean Foundation, which provides support to young musicians, was crammed with special guests. Some, like Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston, Destiny's Child, Mary J. Blige, Stephen Marley and Charlotte Church, were listed on the playbill. Others, like Stevie Wonder, Marc Anthony, the Product G&B and Macy Gray, showed up unannounced.

"Yo. Arrival at Carnegie Hall," announced Jean in his trademark Haitian-American accent. "I asked this bum how do you get to Carnegie Hall . . . and he said practice, practice, practice."

The concert kicked off with top-notch performances by Clef's Kids, up-and-coming talents who've received aid from the Foundation. They were soon joined by the man himself, decked out in top hat, white tux and tails, and intent on spending the night demonstrating the meaning of the word "Ecleftic".

The hall quickly took on the feel of "Showtime at the Apollo," as guest after guest joined Clef on stage, each to a standing ovation. First out were reggae stalwarts Third World, who got bodies moving with "Now That We Found Love (What Are We Gonna Do?)." "I feel like I wanna hear some harp right about now," said Jean, who left the stage mid-song and returned with Stevie Wonder, harmonica in hand.

During Clef's "Gone 'Til November," the pair tried their hand at a little freestyling. "I'll drive the car while you'll be gone 'til November," sang Wonder. Clef shot back with, "Let me tell you a secret. Stevie Wonder ain't really blind."

Eric Clapton offered up a reggae-flavored version of "Wonderful Tonight." Wearing a suit and seemingly embarrassed by the crowd's attention, Clapton concentrated on playing leads that were sweet and subtle. He and Jean also traded guitar lines and sang on "My Song," a number Jean had whipped up for the occasion. "This is our first time playing this song," Jean told the crowd.

As the evening's MC, Jean was loose and funny, teasing the "rich people" who forked over $150 for a seat, including Naomi Campbell, Carly Simon and Clive Davis. "Let me tell you, they don't let black men in here that much," he quipped.

Aided and abetted by fellow Fugee Pras and John Forte, Jean performed a white-hot version of "Staying Alive," from his first solo album, The Carnival. In full hip-hop swing, they strutted their way across the stage of Carnegie Hall, inviting the crowd to throw their hands in the air.

Mary J. Blige, in sequined pink overcoat and red and blonde hair, kept emotions high as she joined Jean to tear through "911," from The Ecleftic.

But true Diva-hood arrived in the form of Whitney Houston: "It's an honor to be performing once again at Carnegie Hall. My God!" Houston radiated star power as she stopped mid-song to address the crowd. "Hi, how are you?" she said to no one in particular. "Clive Davis! I miss you." Houston was animated and in tremendous voice as she sang her Wyclef-penned smash hit "Your Love Is My Love."

But not everything ran smoothly. Jean's sister Melky, who sang a down and dirty a cappella "Amazing Grace," ran onto the stage without shoes. "You called me out too
early," she told her brother. Jean himself admitted he'd hurt his hand break dancing during a segment with the Rock Steady Dancers: "When I did that flip I busted my finger. I want to cry, but this is on TV so I got to hold on."

Surprise guest Macy Gray exuded funkiness, taking the stage in a hip Seventies dress and white afro-wig to rasp a cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here."

Less funky were girl-group of the moment, Destiny's Child. They danced their way through an award-show-friendly choreographed set of "Say My Name" and "Independent Women," supported by a backing tape and three male dancers. Though the girls worked it for the crowd, their lack of live chops seemed out of step with the rest of the performers.

For the finale, Jean pulled out all the stops, bringing Marc Anthony out to lend his pipes to "Juantanamera." As a troupe of West African dancers and percussionists made their way through the audience, the two were joined by most of the night's performers, including Gray, Blige, Wonder and Destiny's Child. What had begun as a high school recital had ended in a triumphant all-star extravaganza worthy of Madison Square Garden.

"Wyclef the multitalented, average heads can't handle it," Jean had boasted back in his days as a Fugee. At Carnegie Hall, Wyclef got the chance he needed to prove his word.

(January 22, 2001)



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