Since its formation 43 years ago, the T.J. Martell Foundation has raised more than $280 million for cancer research. That figure grew even higher Tuesday night (Oct. 2) at its annual Spirit of Excellence dinner in Los Angeles as the charity honored three beloved entertainment figures.
Comedian/actor Bill Bellamy hosted the event with the first award going to the evening’s true rock star, Dr. Alan Wayne. The director of The Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Diseases, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, was honored with the Medical Advancement Award for his groundbreaking research work, especially in the area of treatment for leukemia and lymphoma. Composer/musician Oskar Cartaya, who plays at CHLA every Christmas, presented Wayne with his award.
Latin Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Erica Ender, co-writer of “Despacito” and dozens of other Latin hits, received the Humanitarian Award for Fundacion Puertas Abiertas, the foundation she created in her native Panama in 2009, which uses music and education to positively influence children and teenagers.
“Before being professionals, we’re humans and we’re here for a mission,” she said, after being presented her award by SESAC’s Sam Kling. “I believe there’s a superpower that comes out of pain and that’s empathy. I lost my uterus when I was in my 30s and if I wasn’t going to have a son or daughter…that led to starting my charity. Doing good is a duty and we’re here to make a difference.”
Ender then performed the gorgeous “Sigo Caminando,” a song about keeping moving forward in the face of adversity (“It’s a song I wrote to myself when I was going through a difficult time,” she said), as well as “Despacito.”
While cancer had touched most in the room, it had touched composer David Lawrence more closely than most. In presenting the Spirit of Excellent award to Steven Vincent, Disney Channel’s vp, music and soundtracks, he saluted Vincent for his musical acuity and business acumen while he oversaw such Disney franchises as High School Musical, Hannah Montana and Descendants. But Lawrence saved his highest praise for how Vincent supported him after Lawrence was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment as he was scoring Descendants. “I mentioned it only to Steve and he had my back,” Lawrence said.
In his acceptance speech, Vincent recalled his parents taking him to his first scoring session when he was in high school and from there, the former trombonist was hooked. He also thanked the Foundation for its work, noting that his wife’s first husband died of neuroblastoma when his stepdaughters were only 1 and 2-years old.
Also receiving the Spirit of Excellent Award was Jack Sussman, CBS Entertainment’s executive vp, specials, music and live events. While Sussman is best known for overseeing the Grammy Awards for CBS, Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich highlighted some of Sussman’s work that directly benefits those in need, including CBS’s Home for the Holidays special, which has placed more than 30,000 adoptive kids, as well as Cedars-Sinai Sports Spectacular, which raises money for diabetes and obesity research. Former Grammy host LL Cool J, who noted his wife is a cancer survivor, helped present the award to Sussman, thanking him for drafting the rapper to host 10 Grammy specials at a time when he was taking a hiatus. LL Cool J, who has starred on NCIS: Los Angeles since 2009, thanked Sussman for “all the momentum that stems from having people like you in my life.”
“My daughter said to me after Dr. Wayne, ‘Do you feel inadequate?’,” Sussman laughed as he took the stage, adding, “This guy’s curing cancer and I’m making silly TV shows.” In a passionate speech, Sussman condemned the Trump administration for funneling $260 million earmarked for cancer research to help pay for detaining immigrant children at the border. He also noted his father and father-in-law’s deaths from cancer, as well as shared that he has just come back from Boston, where he visited a childhood friend who was fighting for his life at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Sussman’s segment—and the evening— concluded with a four-sound performance by Meghan Trainor, who was delightfully sassy, commanding photographers to take her photo before she took off her stiletto heels (she later exited the event in pink fluffy slippers. Accompanied by a guitarist, she energetically ran through three of her hits, “All About That Bass,” “Marvin Gaye” (her duet with Charlie Puth), and “Like I’m Gonna Los You” before ending withThe Impressions’ classic, “It’s All Right.”
T.J. Martell Foundation will continue its celebration of Oct. 2’s honorees with Family Day at the Grove in Los Angeles on Oct. 6. Its Oct. 15 New York Gala will honor Universal Music Group general counsel/evp Jeffrey Harleston and renowned restaurateur Drew Nieporent. Record label executive Tony Martell founded the charity in 1975 following the death of his 19-year old son from leukemia.