Entertainment attorney Joel Katz and other industry titans took a moment to honor the memory of the late Leonard Cohen at City of Hope’s 2016 Spirit of Life Gala in Santa Monica, California, on Thursday night. As he took the podium to accept the Spirit of Life Award, honoring his philanthropic endeavors and contributions to cancer research, Katz took the spotlight off himself to acknowledge Cohen’s influence on music.
Looking out into the crowd, Katz asked for “one minute of respect and silence for a legendary artist and songwriter who passed away today: Mr. Leonard Cohen.”
It was a nice moment capping off an evening celebrating the work of City of Hope hospital, a world-renowned biomedical research, education and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases.
Lucian Grainge, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, had kind words for Katz as he addressed the audience, praising him as a man who excels at “advocating and protecting his hall of fame roster of clients.”
Grainge — 2015’s Spirit of Life Award honoree — tells Billboard he is proud of how the music industry steps up for the hospital, which has researched and discovered therapies and treatments that aid patients worldwide. “If you spend time down at the hospital and talking to the administration and the people who have been treated there, you have literally a sense of hope and optimism, as well as expertise,” he says.
The evening was hosted by Azoff MSG Entertainment Chairman/CEO Irving Azoff (sample joke: Azoff announced his plans to run for governor with One Direction singer Harry Styles as part of his campaign) and featured special performances by Grammy-winning country group Little Big Town, BET Award-winning recording artist Davido and Christian music singer/songwriter Michael W. Smith.
“Music is healing and music is hope,” said Smith, who sat at the piano for an uplifting performance of his song “Place in This World” and added an extra keyboard player for the instrumental “Patriot,” which he dedicated to Katz, saying, “You’re a good man and a great friend.”
Afro-fusion artist Davido thoroughly engaged the crowd with a medley of songs that included several backup dancers, as well as a formally attired backup band, as he performed both onstage and in the crowd. The dynamic entertainer — who tells Billboard his next album, featuring collaborations with Young Thug, Future, DJ Snake and Diplo, will debut in the first quarter of 2017 — wrapped with a fitting cover of Bob Marley‘s “One Love.”
“Joel Katz is someone I look up to. He is like a father to me,” says Davido, who recently released the song “How Long” featuring Tinashe. “I’m overwhelmed that I will be performing in front of so many big people, and I’m happy to be here.
“I’ve worked with so many lawyers all my life, and with Joel, he didn’t rush into anything because I was always used to lawyers rushing paperwork. Joel took his time with my contract with Sony, it took months and months,” he continued. “Even when I was ready, Joel wasn’t ready. He is someone that really has not only my back, but all of his clients’. Nobody has anything bad to say about Joel.”
That proved to be true with a video package of congratulations featuring some of Katz’s biggest clients — including Lionel Richie (who called Katz his “secret weapon”), Willie Nelson (“Hi Joel, it’s Willie”) and Julio Iglesias (who paid him the highest compliment by calling him “an honest lawyer”). Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group co-president John Amato said Katz “represents titans, but is himself a titan.”
Katz was humble as he accepted his award, proudly announcing that fundraising efforts for the hospital reached $3.2 million. City of Hope, he said, is “an institution that knows no limits and continually reaches for the stars to heal and to make life better and longer for as many of us human beings as possible.”
“Music truly is medicine, and music truly is hope, he said. “For it is music that refreshes the soul.”
Little Big Town then took the stage for a four-song set that kicked off with new single “Better Man” (penned by Taylor Swift), “Girl Crush,” “Stay All Night” and a surprise cover of Alicia Keys‘ “Fallin.”
Keys had previously performed “Girl Crush” for the band at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, as Little Big Town singer Karen Fairchild told the audience. “We had the pleasure of doing one of her songs, and we had a request to do this one of her songs for you guys tonight,” she said. “So we are going to give you guys the hillbilly version here.”
Illustrating the power of the hospital, cancer survivor Caroline Rose of Pasadena, California, told her inspiring story of how the hospital treated an aggressive form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, saying the treatment that saved her wasn’t discovered until her third round of therapy. She also praised Dr. Stephan Forman for not only saving her life, but for being compassionate enough to make a house call and check up on her family.
“My children think it is normal for Mom’s doctor to also be their playmate,” she said.
Additional guests included singer/actress Bridgit Mendler, Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow and talent manager and businessman Scooter Braun.