It's 40 years later, over $270 million raised, and countless major artists involved, but Thursday night's (Oct. 15) gala celebrating the T.J. Martell Foundation wasn't about the numbers or the big names.
"All the lives we've lengthened and saved -- that's what really counts," said Tony Martell, former CBS Records executive and founder of the T.J. Martell Foundation, in a speech that kicked off the night.
The T.J. Martell Top 40 Gala -- "commemorating the foundation's greatest hits" -- paid tribute to those who have contributed to the foundation's success as well as those who are making major moves in the industry.
During his speech, Martell wiped a tear from his eye as he remembered why he started the foundation all those years ago: It was a promise to his own son who died of leukemia at just 21 years old. Since he began striving to fulfill that promise, the foundation has come together with many of music's biggest names to raise millions of dollars to help extend lives and contribute to fighting leukemia, cancer and AIDS.
Rocker Alice Cooper, who has supported the foundation for decades, talked to Billboard about the marriage between the organization and the music industry. "I can't remember the first thing we did with him, but it seems like it was 30 years ago. They'd have softball games and golf tournaments, and just about anything that they did was all based in rock and roll," Cooper said. "So everybody showed up. There's no reason not to. It's something everybody can get behind."
— billboard (@billboard) October 15, 2015
The event honored Martell, Guggenheim Media Entertainment Group co-president/chief creative officer Janice Min and co-president John Amato, Palm Restaurant Group co-chairmen/co-owners Bruce Bozzi Sr. and Wally Ganzi, Harman International chairman/president/CEO Dinesh Paliwal, and fashion designer John Varvatos. There were also touching performances by Foreigner, Pat Monahan of Train, REO Speedwagon and singer Grace.
The Martell support system has helped many people throughout the years, including a co-worker of honorees Min and Amato. "One of our executives had a brother who had cancer who unfortunately passed away," Amato recalled. "She wasn't even in the music business at the time, and a friend from Atlantic Records set her up with Tony Martell, and he was very supportive of her through that process and got the team involved. That's just something that I found out recently, when it hits near and dear, to someone who Janice and I rely on daily to be an executive, it sort of hits close to home."
"We interviewed him [Martell] for our Philanthropy Issue, which is the first one we've ever done for Billboard, and I love how optimistic he remains," Min added. "He said, 'There is a cure for every disease,' which I think is a great way to keep hope going."
— billboard (@billboard) October 15, 2015
Throughout the night, wine flowed, food was served, and thousands of dollars were raised for the foundation. Guests donated during the night's live and silent auctions, as well as independent donations.
Industry legend Clive Davis was honored with the establishment of the Clive Davis Research Fellow Award for Leukemia Research. The new annual award will go toward "funding some of the brightest minds in the laboratories that will be the leaders in scientific research of tomorrow."
Davis was there 40 years ago when the foundation started, serving on the original board and even providing offices to help the Martells jumpstart the organization.
"I've sat there and seen many of the survivors who were personally known to me and others in the room," Davis told Billboard. "I know that Tony and Vicky have turned the tragic passing of their son into an event, into a cause, that has saved so many lives. It's a special event for all of us in music."
During a tribute video to Martell, which was edited like a VH1 Behind the Music special, many familiar faces appeared, including Jack Antonoff, Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Jackson. The documentary-style video followed Martell's story from his youth through his career in the industry and immense work through his foundation.
"All my experiences with him have been whimsical and bizarre," quipped Antonoff during one of the many Martell anecdotes.
The themes of hope and survival kept the event from ever becoming somber. Instead, it remained a night of remembrance and a celebration of life.
"Thank you for helping me become a survivor," Alex Hawkins said to Martell from the gala stage. Hawkins was diagnosed with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin's Aggressive Lymphoma at just 23 and credits Martell for giving her and her family guidance during the frightening time.
After 40 years, there are many moments that have impacted Martell, but he shared a story with Billboard that encapsulates the true mission of the T.J. Martell Foundation.
"I met one patient. He said to me, 'I know your foundation and you give us something you may not realize. Let me put it this way: You can live up to 30 days without food, you can live up to seven days without water, you can stop breathing for up to four minutes, but you can't live up to 60 seconds without hope. And that's what you give us: a lot of hope.'"
For more information about the T.J. Martell foundation, visit TJMartell.org.