CNN’s ‘Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom’ kicks off with Chaka Khan


CNN’s inaugural “Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom” concert is off to a roaring start: Live from the Hollywood Bowl, Black legends of music are bringing audiences to their feet in a joyful commemoration of the holiday.

Gospel star Yolanda Adams opened the show with a rousing performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a historical rallying cry that’s also considered the Black National Anthem. A beaming Chaka Khan, backed by the Roots, followed with her hits “Ain’t Nobody” and “I’m Every Woman,” dedicating the latter song to the “powerful women” in the audience at the Hollywood Bowl.

Vice President Kamala Harris appeared in a recorded message, and poet Amir Sulaiman performed a powerful piece with a message to viewers: “You will be someone’s ancestor. Act accordingly. ”

And yes, that was Beyoncé making a vocal cameo in a prerecorded segment on Opal Lee, the 95-year-old activist who worked to make June a federal holiday. (More on Lee below.)

The concert celebrates Juneteenth, the holiday that marks the end of slavery in the US. Black artists who will take the stage Sunday night include Earth, Wind & Fire, Mickey Guyton, Khalid and Bell Biv Devoe and more.

Also appearing at the event are President Joe Biden, former first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Scott, who will perform spoken word.

The entire creative team behind the concert is Black, CNN’s Sara Sidner reported ahead of the show, including creator Shawn Gee of Live Nation Urban and Jesse Collins Entertainment. The night also marks the first time an all-Black orchestra, Re-Collective Orchestra, will play the Hollywood Bowl, Sidner said.

This is the second year the US has recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday, but many Black Americans have honored the date for years with parades, parties and family gatherings. The holiday is also an opportunity to reflect on the persisting systemic inequalities that Black Americans face.

CNN's Don Lemon spoke with Opal Lee about her work to make June 18th a federal holiday.

In a pre-show special, 95-year-old Lee told CNN’s Don Lemon that she was “pinching [herself]”At the fact that her life’s work of making Juneteenth a federal holiday had succeeded.

Earlier this June, Lee, considered the “grandmother of Juneeteenth,” walked 2.5 miles to symbolize the two-and-a-half years that enslaved African Americans of Galveston, Texas, lived in slavery after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863

Lee said Americans should spend the holiday celebrating, learning and continuing to advocate for change.

“I advocate that we celebrate from the 19th of June to the 4th of July,” she said. “That would be celebrating freedom. ”