While Pharrell Williams is headlining the NBA All-Star Game Entertainment Series this year, with a performance during the player introductions on Sunday night (Feb. 16), the halftime show — featuring Earth, Wind & Fire, Janelle Monae, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Dr. John and Gary Clark Jr. — is the evening’s event that promises to synthesize the vibrant musical culture of this year’s All-Star Weekend host city, New Orleans. Earth, Wind & Fire’s soul classic “Shining Star” and Monae’s “The Electric Lady” title track will be among the songs performed, and everything will be played live at the New Orleans Arena.
“It’s been a great process, and… I’m blessed to be a representative for my city,” Shorty, the city’s most high-profile brass musician, told Billboard on Sunday, hours before the performance is broadcast live on TNT. Shorty has acted as a musical ambassador for the NBA, personally contacting other artists to see if they would be interested in collaborating on the halftime extravaganza.
“I was like, ‘This would be great, but I think it should be bigger,'” says Shorty, who recent made his GRAMMYs ceremony debut by performing alongside Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Madonna last month. “I’m in my city, and I could have done something by myself, but I was like, ‘No, we need some other people with us.'”
Monae, who was honored as the Rising Star at last year’s Billboard Women in Music event, was one of the first people Shorty contacted. “I’m really great friends with Trombone Shorty, who’s like the king of New Orleans in terms of live music,” says Monae. “He played on [my song] ‘The Electric Lady,’ and we just thought it was fitting. He was like, ‘There are no other females performing — I want it to be you.'”
Despite having a gig on Saturday night in Tampa, the guys of Earth, Wind & Fire took an early plane out to New Orleans, after Shorty gave them a ring a few weeks ago. “They were actually going to use ‘Shining Star’ in the piece that they were doing,” says the legendary funk group’s Verdine White, “and an idea came to them to reach out to them and see if we could do it live.”
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All of the halftime artists gush about how easy it was to put together the collaboration, which was inspired by New Orleans jazz and funk music. “We love music, we love funk, we love soul, we love to jam,” says Monae. “We didn’t really even have to rehearse [the performance] as many times as we did. Everybody’s fans of each other’s music.”
Fans tuning in should expect “musical diversity and a great energy onstage,” says Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey. Shorty adds, “People will definitely be out of their seats dancing. That’s what our focus is — to have a big party, the way we do here in the Big Easy.”
Dr. John, the brilliant blues troubadour, performed when the NBA All-Star Game was last in his hometown in 2008, and is looking forward to another go-round. “It’s a blessing,” he says. “It’s the kind of blessing I look forward to.”