On Wednesday, November 7, the second annual Hope Rising! benefit concert took place at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. Annie Lennox, Sarah McLachlan and Angélique Kidjo performed (more on them in a bit!) to the sold-out crowd. The evening raised funds and awareness for the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF), an incredible organization that provides resources and support directly to grassroots organizations in 15 countries most affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa.
The night kicked off with a small cocktail reception, where guests toasted Stephen Lewis on the occasion of his 75th birthday. While Lewis’ birthday isn’t until Sunday, Hope Rising! was the perfect chance to celebrate this remarkable man’s milestone birthday. Raising their glass to Lewis was his family, including daughter Ilana Landsberg-Lewis (executive director of the SLF), and friends such as Thandie Newton, Olivia Chow, Matt Galloway and Jeanne Beker.
Jian Ghomeshi did a stellar job of hosting Hope Rising! He started off the night by addressing the big W that Barack Obama had won the night before and added levity to the evening. Plus, as one audience member heckled him about, he looked “real good” in a suit!
Annie Lennox kicked off the night by performing some of her classic tunes, including No More I Love You’s, Here Comes the Rain Again and There Must Be An Angel. Despite suffering from a cold, Lennox delivered a knock-out performance. She played a piano during her set and sipped tea in between songs.
Sarah McLachlan also played her own music during her set – she was seated at a grand piano in the centre of the stage. During one of her songs, she was accompanied by three dancers from the Alberta Ballet (with whom McLachlan is collaborating with on a new original ballet). She ended with a stellar performance of her hit song, Angel.
Of all the evening’s performers, Angélique Kidjo was likely the least well-known to the audience, but no one at Roy Thomson Hall that night will ever forget her after her high-energy performance. A close friend of Stephen Lewis and the SLF, Kidjo, her band and her back-up singers had everyone in the room up on their feet dancing and singing along. Audiences couldn’t help but feel energized and positive after seeing her on-stage.
One of the highlights of the evening was definitely when Annie, Sarah and Angélique came together on stage to sing a gorgeous version of ‘Sweet Dreams’, the Eurythmics hit song from 1983. Then, as a surprise end to the evening, the entire group of performers (including d’bi young, African grandmothers and daughters and dancers from the Alberta Ballet) gathered to sing Happy Birthday to Stephen Lewis. It was a beautiful ending to an evening of positivity, hope and celebration.
CIBC was the presenting sponsor and pledged a donation of $1 million to the SLF. In addition, over $250,000 was raised by Hope Rising! and we were humbled and honoured to be part of this very special night.