Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Washington Social Diary

Choristers serenaded guests on their way downstairs to dinner.
... And Still We Rise!
by Stephanie Green

The tag line of Black Entertainment Television, commonly known as BET, is "this is what extraordinary looks like."

The folks at BET certainly know what an "extraordinary" party looks like. Thanks to them, so do I.

It was a celebration, indeed a night of unabashed glamour, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art Friday night where people, including titans from business, government and the arts, were dressed to the nines in honor of Dr. King.
The Corcoran is a coveted party venue thanks to stunning pieces like these above.
Another view of the central staircase.
The occasion was BET's fifth annual BET Honors pre-dinner, an exclusive gathering hosted by BET's chairman and CEO Debra Lee on the eve of the BET Honors Award Show which, as its name suggests, lauds those in the African-American community who have soared to great heights in their respective fields.

Our hostess, Ms. Lee, was as humble as she is regal. She greeted everyone with genuine attention during the cocktail hour on the second floor of the cavernous Corcoran Gallery, which is a neoclassical paradise with imposing columns and alabaster statues flanking its central staircase.
The dining room was aglow in pastels at the fifth annual BET Honors weekend, which they kicked off with an elegant dinner party at Corcoran.
Centerpieces designed by Andre Wells.
Only Wells can put peacock feathers on a Washington dinner table and get away with it.
Lee donned a simple strapless cocktail dress with glittery, sky-high heels. Although she was on her feet all night, she didn't once let on that her feet hurt, especially as she was dancing the night away later in the evening.

As a high-powered businesswoman she's learned that you should never let them see you wince.

Ms. Lee was joined by another diva, the "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin, seated at her table during the dinner.
Spike Lee with wife Tanya Lewis Lee.
Ms. Lee's shoes were a topic of conversation.
Aretha Franklin, BET CEO Debra Lee, and Ms. Franklin's fiancé William Wilkerson.
When Franklin was presented with a huge bouquet of flowers, she kindly passed them over to Lee as if to say, "This night is yours. You deserve these more than I."
It was a touching gesture to behold from the woman who famously sings about respect.

Franklin wasn't the only star in the house. 2012 Honoree Stevie Wonder, rapper Common, and 2012 Honoree Spike Lee were also in attendance as were bold-faced names from business including Nickelodeon executive Marva Smalls who told me about First Lady Michelle Obama tapping an appearance for iCarly, and philanthropists Mark Ein and Vernon Jordan.

The evening was brought to magical life by event planner extraordinaire Andre Wells who transformed the Corcoran into a rhapsody of pastels with gentle candlelight, golden hued chandeliers, and whimsical floral arrangements that varied from the understated to the truly baroque.
Stevie Wonder.
Rapper Common chats with guests during dinner.
Nickelodeon Exec Marva Smalls. Washington Kastles owner Mark Ein.
Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Jordan (seated) with friends.
Mayor Vincent Gray and Linda Greene.
AT&T's Lyndon Boozer with Yebbie Watkins from the office of Rep. Jim Clyburn.
I was seated at the dinner with a lively menagerie of friends from event sponsor AT&T thanks to the hospitality of AT&T's Tanya Lombard, her colleagues Lyndon Boozer and Claudia Jones, and the always debonair Yebbie Watkins, chief of staff to Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina.

The dinner (mushroom bisque, beef entrée, superb!) featured brief remarks by Lee, Wonder, and T.J. Holmes, formerly a CNN anchorman, now a fresh BET recruit.
Mr. and Mrs. T.J. Holmes, the new anchor for BET.
AT&T's Xavier Williams with NIke's Orson Porter.
Event Planner Andre Wells with BET's Bobette Gillette.
Frederic Yonnet plays for guests. Stevie Wonder speaks during dinner.
Corcoran transformed into dance floor.
A funny anecdote: during the dinner while the band played Wonder's hit "Higher Ground", I saw Wonder doing his signature sway in his chair.

His spirit is irrepressible.

After dancing and nibbling on treats from the dessert bar, guests departed to the after party at a hip DC nightclub with a goody bag and a copy of the art book, 30 Americans.

First Lady Michelle Obama enters the stage to pay tribute to Maya Angelou at BET Honors awards show. (Photo: Brad Barket/PictureGroup).
The following night BET Hosted the BET Honors awards show, which will air on the network February 13, at the Warner Theatre where Dr. Maya Angelou, Mariah Carey, Spike Lee, Stevie Wonder, Beverly Kearney, and the Tuskegee Airmen were feted as the 2012 Honorees.

Michelle Obama, Colin Powell, Eric Holder, and Valerie Jarrett were among those in the Warner Theatre.

BET capped off another magical evening with an after party at the venerable National Portrait Gallery.

Proceeds from the BET Honors benefit MetroTeenAids, an organization dedicated to helping young people in their fight against AIDS through education, advocacy, and support.

Among those spotted at the BET weekend festivities: CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Goldman Sachs's Joyce Brayboy, Washington Post's Nicole Venable, Podesta Group's A.J. Jones, Nike's Orson Porter, AT&T's Xavier Williams, District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray, former mayor Marion Barry, Rev. Jessie Jackson, show hostess Gabrielle Union, award presenters John Singleton, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Rowland, Queen Latifah, Cicely Tyson, BET's Tara Jones, CentricTV's Paxton Baker, and, of course, the Queen of Soul who belted out a stirring rendition of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" for her old friend Stevie Wonder.
Photographs by Stephanie Green.