Having served as musical director for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, veteran musician, composer and producer Ray Chew will step it up a notch on Jan. 20 as he handles the same duties for the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball. Newly installed President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will share their first dance at the event. It will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. and televised on ABC.
With the event less than two weeks away, Chew says he’s planning a combination of local and national talent. And while the performer lineup is still being flushed out, he’s not concerned about the tight turnaround. “Every [inaugural] event is doing the same scramble to the finish line,” says Chew whose wish list encompasses everyone from “Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson to Sting and beyond. I’d want them all.”
In his 15th year as musical director for TV’s “Showtime at the Apollo,” the Harlem, New York, native also oversees music for two other series: NBC’s “Singing Bee” (coming back from hiatus later this year) and BET’s “Sunday Best” (which begins taping in March). Under Chew’s purview as well are two BET annual specials, the “Celebration of Gospel” and “BET Honors.”
Airing Jan. 25 and hosted by radio personality Steve Harvey, “Celebration of Gospel” will feature Kirk Franklin, Shirley Caesar, Mary Mary and Hezekiah Walker. A month later (Feb. 22), “BET Honors” will salute the achievements of several African-American professionals including Tyler Perry, Mary J. Blige, and Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Queen Latifah, Anthony Hamilton and Yolanda Adams are confirmed to appear thus far.
Chew-who has worked with Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Sting, T.I. and others-is also co-producing a musical series with opera singer Jessye Norman in conjunction with Carnegie Hall. Tracing the evolution of black music, the series will open on March 4 at Carnegie Hall with such artists as Patti Austin, Kem, Leela James and Terrence Blanchard. The series will also include a gospel tribute staged March 22 at the Apollo Theatre.