Ron Perelman Draws Hollywood, Wall Street for ‘Bittersweet’ Bash
(Bloomberg) -- Jessica Seinfeld and Spike Lee were hanging out in Ron Perelman’s East Hampton living room Saturday night when Pharrell Williams, standing a few feet away, reflected on their host’s decision to make this evening the 10th and final benefit for Harlem’s Apollo Theater.
“It’s bittersweet,” William said. “It’s such a great group of people coming together.”
People do make a party and Perelman, the billionaire chairman and chief executive of MacAndrews & Forbes, knows how to gather them. On the patio, Two Sigma’s Tom Hill talked with the Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker, and Robert Kraft chatted with Jon Bon Jovi.
In the dining room, where Hill would later admire the Brice Marden and Cy Twombly works, Governor Andrew Cuomo got a hug from Ashley Schiff. Netflix’s Ted Sarandos was on a couch in the living room when former HBO head Richard Plepler arrived. Ari Emanuel sat for dinner at the same table with Woody Harrelson, while LionTree founder Aryeh Bourkoff shared one with former Nascar racer Jeff Gordon and Jeff McDermott.
In years past, Steve Schwarzman, Steve Cohen, Henry Kravis and Paul Tudor Jones have filled roughly the same spots, helping the event raise almost $30 million over 10 years for education programs at the Apollo.
“There is no better testament to the power of capitalism than this kind of philanthropy, that focuses on a historic black institution that just a few years ago was on its deathbed and now is glowing and vibrant,” said Walker of the Ford Foundation. He’s writing a book updating Andrew Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth,” with its emphasis on generosity, to include justice.
The Apollo has pursued justice by giving black musicians a place to perform, boosting the careers of future legends ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Stevie Wonder, Billie Holiday to Michael Jackson, Sarah Vaughan to James Brown.
The venue on 125th Street is adding two theaters (one with 99 seats, another with 199) and is looking to form long-term relationships with artists to develop new works. It recently announced a residency for the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“We want to create a 21st century performing arts center that focuses on the African-American narrative,” Apollo CEO Jonelle Procope said.
“We’re going to be the Lincoln Center of Harlem,” Vice Chairman Charles Phillips said.
Still, it may be impossible to reproduce on Apollo’s stages what happens on Perelman’s. Located in a barn-like structure next to his home, it has the rustic feel of a summer camp theater, albeit with better food and entertainment.
About two hours into the show, Jamie Foxx was on stage when he spotted Joseph Simmons, better known as Run of Run-DMC, sitting at a table with Tracy Maitland and Morgan Stanley’s Kimberley Hatchett. Foxx brought him up, and, with help from the Black Eyed Peas, they performed “Walk This Way” and “It’s Tricky.”
There were many tender moments, as when Dave Mathews asked fellow South African Vusi Mahlasela to perform with him or Wall Street titans got up to dance with their wives as Apollo amateur night alumni the Isley Brothers crooned. Will.i.am mused on the friendships and opportunities that got him out of the projects, while Patti LaBelle brought a gentle energy to “Over the Rainbow.”
It was also a night to hear new music: Maggie Rogers shined on “Give a Little.” Pharrell sang a new song in tribute to Clarence Avant, whose daughter Nicole, married to Sarandos, was present. The chorus: “When the darkness comes, just know he’s our chandelier.”
The highest-energy moment was when audience chants of “It’s Run’s House” morphed into “It’s Ron’s house,” in appreciation of the host.
Perelman had kicked it all off with a tribute to the Apollo.
“I think we’ve got a very, very special venue in our city” Perelman said. “It has allowed America to produce a modern culture that has influenced everything from dance to dress to song to the beat of your heart.”
As for this being the last event for the Apollo, Perelman left an opening when he asked the audience, “How many people think we should do it again?” After huge applause, he added: “OK, so maybe we will.”
One scenario is that he starts throwing a party to benefit another nonprofit -- the new arts center downtown that has his name on it. It’s set to open in 2021.
And someone else with a home in the Hamptons could step in for the Apollo. Charles Phillips said he might do it with help from Kraft, who has experience bringing big-name performers to Gillette Stadium. They got to know each other on the board of Viacom, and joined Apollo’s board with Pharrell on the same day, Phillips said.
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