Sheila E. Honored, Goapele Sings Etta James @ Moja Moja Awards
Sheila E. Honored, Goapele Sings Etta James @ Moja Moja Awards

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Sheila E. shows off her plaque after receiving the Vanguard Award from Bob Ferguson, Manager of Creative Alliances & Music Outreach for Oxfam America, left, and KCRW's Garth Trinidad, right. She was honored for her work with the Elevate Hope Foundation, which provides music therapy to abused and abandoned children. (Photo: Melinda Newman)

Sheila E. was honored for her humanitarian work at the 4th annual Moja Moja Awards Brunch & Benefit Concert Saturday, Feb. 11, at Mr. C Hotel in Beverly Hills. The event, sponsored by Santa Monica, Calif.'s influential KCRW, was hosted by the radio station's Garth Trinidad, whose nightly show features a blend of world music.

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Trinidad, who is starting his 16th year as a DJ on KCRW, told Billboard.biz that he had a specific goal for this year's Moja Moja: " The first three years we [focused] on urban alternative. This year, I wanted to open it up...I want more in the mix, to say, 'here's a couple more flavors'," he said. By adding Latin acts Mariachi El Bronx and Los Amigos Invisibles, Trinidad hoped to "get the attention of the Latino market, which is huge in L.A."

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Eusonia Records chiefs James McKinney, second from left, and Scott Jacoby, right, discuss their Grammy predictions with the brunch's co-host Ramona Wright, left, and McKinney's wife, Evelyn. Eusonia focuses on "left-of-center" artists, according to Jacoby, including 2008 Grammy nominee Maiysha. (Photo: Melinda Newman)

The annual event also benefits charity: this year's recipients were Oxfam America and The Darfur Stoves Project. "Garth and I got the inspiration to do this brunch five years ago after attending a Vanity Fair brunch," the brunch's co-host Ramona Wright, principal at Mozaic Media and Communications. "We wanted to raise awareness for international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) when we have all these artists in town for the Grammys, most of whom are not seen on the televised ceremony. The goal is to raise awareness for good music and good causes." Past performers have included Janelle Monae, Heavy D, Little Dragon and The Roots' ?uestlove.

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Of course, this being the eve of the Grammy Awards, the talk was on who would be the big winner. While everyone Billboard.biz surveyed felt strongly that Adele would sweep, they had other favorites, including Skrillex, Ledisi and Kelly Price.

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The members of Blah, Blah, Blah are surrounded by their management and publicist. From left are publicist Jill Mango, co-manager Nelson Colon, the band's Phil Ferguson, Solomon David, Byron Harden, co-manager Josh Kaplan, and the band's Dario Arcos. (Photo: Melinda Newman)

Attendees at this years event, in addition to Sheila E., included performers DJ DaM-funk, actress Nicki Micheaux, a capella quintet Sonos, Chicago urban alternative act Blah Blah Blah, the aforementioned Mariachi El Bronx and Los Amigos Invisibles, Goapele, Eusonia Records founders and Grammy Trustees James McKinney and Scott Jacoby and artist managers Josh Kaplan and Nelson Colon.

Each of the acts was warmly received by the 250 or so KCRW listeners, but elegant, stunning R&B singer Goapele brought the house down with her tribute to Etta James: an a capella version of "At Last."

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Goapele, herself noted for her humanitarian work by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, pleased the crowd with her short set. (Photo: Melinda Newman)

Also pleasing the crowd was Chicago's Blah, Blah, Blah, whose energetic set included keyboardist Phil Ferguson doing a handstand in the middle of a song. The four-piece has released two EPs and is now set to record its full length debut. Co-manager Nelson Colon said KCRW's support has been "epic" for the band. "They've thrown all their weight behind us."