Gospel, soul and R&B pioneer Aretha Franklin will receive the United Negro College Fund's prestigious Award of Excellence on its annual televised special, An Evening of Stars®. The three-hour concert tribute airs 7-10 p.m. Saturday on NewsChannel5+.
The Memphis born, Detroit-reared artist will be the first woman to receive the award from the 63-year-old minority higher education assistance program. Previous honorees include former spokesman and UNCF advocate Lou Rawls and singer, songwriter and musician Stevie Wonder.
Franklin has been regarded as one of the best vocalists in American history and for years, she has been called "The Queen Of Soul" and "Lady Soul." She has performed several times during the program's 28-year history.
Formerly the Lou Rawls Parade of Stars, An Evening of Stars® features stellar appearances and performances by some of the nation's biggest stars including Golden Globe and Oscar nominee Jennifer Hudson; Reba McIntyre; Luther Vandross; Frank Sinatra and Kennedy Center honoree Smokey Robinson.
Since late December, the United Negro College Fund has raised more than $2 billion that helped more than 350,000 students attend college.
An Evening of Stars® 2007 will be the first without founder Lou Rawls, who died in January 2006. A spokesman and advocate for the program for more than 25 years, Rawls helped raise more than $200 million for the United Negro College Fund.
This year's show will also be the last national television appearance of Atlantic Records Founder Ahmet Ertegun, who was also a Franklin mentor. He died in December.
The three-hour concert tribute was taped in Los Angeles in September. It airs Saturday and Sunday nationwide.
"This year's program promises to be one of the best we've ever produced," said UNCF President and CEO Michael L. Lomax in a press release. "We expect our largest An Evening of Stars audience ever this year. UNCF has made unprecedented gains in media outreach to promote the show and the response from the national and local markets has been overwhelming."
As one of the most revered artists in the music industry, Franklin has earned several accolades including 17 Grammy awards, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a National Medal of Arts and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Her hits include "Chain of Fools," "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)," "Think," "Baby I Love You," and "Respect." Her debut release on Aretha Records, "Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love," is set to hit stores early this year, according to Billboard magazine. Singers such as best-selling country singer Faith Hill and gospel greats Shirley Caesar and Karen Clark-Sheard joined Franklin on her new album.
The music industry legend will be honored for her activism and philanthropy including longstanding, generous support of UNCF's mission to provide internships and scholarships at about 900 institutions and operating funds and technology enhancement services for 39 private historically black colleges and universities. Administrative and faculty professional training are also supported by UNCF.
An HBCU is any nationally accredited historically black college or university established before 1964 for the education of blacks, according to Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The first HBCU, Cheney University in Pennsylvania was founded in 1837. Today, there are 105 historically black colleges and universities, according to the United Negro College Fund.
Students of various racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds attend HBCUs. These institutions enroll 14 percent of all African-American students in higher education even though they are 3 percent of the nation's colleges and universities, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
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