Stars Gather for Nelson Mandela Birthday Show

Jill Lawless, AP, June 27, 2008

Queen, Leona Lewis, Amy Winehouse and a host of African stars joined tens of thousands of music fans Friday to salute Nelson Mandela at a concert honoring the South African statesman’s 90th birthday.

The outdoor show in London’s Hyde Park opened in eclectic style with Jivan Gasparyan, an Armenian master of the duduk wooden flute, followed by British band Razorlight.

Organizers said Bono and The Edge from the Irish band U2 had recorded a version of “Happy Birthday” that would be shown on big screens during the show.

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Proceeds from the show—which organizers hope would be attended by 46,664 people—will go to 46664, the AIDS charity named for the number Mandela wore while imprisoned for opposing South Africa’s apartheid regime.

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Josh Groban and the Soweto Gospel Choir were also lined up for the event, hosted by Will Smith and held to mark Mandela’s birthday on July 18.

It also came 20 years after a 70th birthday concert at Wembley Stadium that helped press South Africa’s apartheid authorities for Mandela’s freedom.

Queen guitarist Brian May said the event was “as important and as joyful as anything we’ve done in our lives, and has a great serious significance as well.”

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Annie Lennox, who performed at the 1988 show as part of Eurythmics, was scheduled to sing Friday. Also on the lineup are reggae star Eddy Grant, girl group Sugababes and African artists including Emmanuel Jal, Johnny Clegg and Papa Wemba.

Jim Kerr of Scottish band Simple Minds, which also played the 1988 show and was due to perform again Friday, said the mood was very different 20 years on.

“I was angry the last time,” Kerr said. “It was very much a protest concert. This is a joyful occasion.”

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