The “Strength of a Woman” Brunch hosted by Mary J. Blige is always a star-studded Essence Festival highlight. Sponsored by AT&T Humanity of Connection, this year’s brunch was certainly no exception.
The 2019 honorees included The Clark Sisters, the authors of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics,” and the legendary Cicely Tyson.
Blige, who brought down the house at the Superdome the night before, spoke about how the Clark Sisters remain a constant inspiration for women in the music industry.
“We’re all inspired by them,” said Blige, who recalled first hearing “Expect A Miracle” when she was seven and wanted to sing it. “Every female singer in here has some kind of Clark singer’s run they’ve tried to copy.”
Holding back tears, Blige also acknowledged that the group’s music helped her through dark times, adding, “They are the reason I am here today.”
The audience was then treated to a first look at the upcoming Lifetime miniseries, The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel, which is executive produced by Blige, Missy Elliott, and Queen Latifah.
All four sisters–Karen Clark Sheard, Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark-Terrell, Dorinda Clark-Cole, and Jacky Clark Chisholm–were on hand to receive their “Strength of A Woman” award.
To celebrate the group, three of the four actresses in the miniseries sang a beautiful rendition of the Clark Sisters 1982 classic “Name It, Claim It.”
“These girls are singing like beasts y’all,” said Sheard of their performance. “They outdoing us! We just gone set the record straight. They are killing vocally.”
The afternoon’s second award went to the politically-minded collective of Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, and Minyon Moore–authors of the 2018 book “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics.”
“The road to the White House goes through Black women,” Daughtry reminded the room. “We can change the face of this nation.”
Brazile, a New Orleans native, followed up with a plea to fill out the census. “We need you to be counted. We need you to check your registration status,” she said. “But most of all we need you to get out and vote.”
Certainly, the highlight of the brunch was Cicely Tyson, who received the Humanity of Connection Award. The actor began her acceptance speech with a recitation of Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, as well as quoting Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” and Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman.”
Tyson also gave the audience her own words of advice.
“Don’t you sit down. Don’t you give up. Don’t you fall down. Ha! I’m still going, honey! I’m still climbing. Ninety-four years,” she said to a burst of audience applause. “Keep moving. Don’t stop. Nobody can stop you but yourself. Get out of your own way. Move on!”
Guests in attendance included June Ambrose, Monica Brown, La La Anthony, Cynthia Enrivo and Teyana Taylor, among others.