“You know you want it,” Robin Thicke sang, as he jumped from the stage into the black-tie crowd. Toned bodies in pricey gowns swayed. Cell phones lit. That was just the warm up. Mary J. Blige; Miri Ben Ari with Chloe Jane; and music by Jermaine Dupri followed. It was Denise Rich’s Angel Ball. 600 people, raising $2.8 million for blood cancer research, were letting loose.
Denise founded Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for Cancer Research 25 years ago, in honor of daughter Gabrielle Rich Aouad, who died of the disease in her 20s. It’s provided more than $41 million in grants toward blood cancer research, resulting in less painful and more effective treatments.
Amy and Brian France, Marc J. Leder and Warren Lichtenstein were among the Honorary Gala Chairs. Daughters Daniella Rich Kilstock and Ilona Rich Schachter co-hosted. Tamron Hall hosted.
Mayor Eric Adams, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Michael Bolton & Heather Kerzner, Candace Bushnell, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Tina Knowles, Dee and Tommy Hilfiger, Clive Davis, Nikki Haskell, Dennis Basso, Gretta Monahan, Nicole Miller, Dylan Penn, Erich Bergen, G-Eazy, Emilia Fazzalari, Lexi Wood, Tyrod Taylor, Ubah Hassan, Julia Chatterley, Keni Silva, Lexi Wood, Luann de Lesseps, Monte Lippman, Montego Glover, Myles Frost, and more were there.
How does Denise do it? “Denise a songwriter, so she has music business close friends, like Mary J. Blige and Clive Davis,” Isabella “Rupa” de Conti-Mikkilineni, one of the co-chairs, told me, “She’s well-liked because she’s kind, caring and humble — to everyone. She’s also multi-cultural. A lot of people fly in from Europe for this party. And it never disappoints.”
The Ball honored Hospitality Entrepreneur Richie Akiva, Monique Rodriguez, Founder and CEO of Mielle Organics and Mielle Cares (the fastest growing, Black-founded, and women-led beauty brand), and Elizabeth Elting, Founder and CEO of The Elizabeth Elting Foundation.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire huddled together under low slung baseball caps at Akiva’s table. “I knew them when they were just getting famous,” Richie told me of the duo. “So, they’ve been close friends of mine for a long time.”
Richie is the cool club kid turned nightlife impresario. He started throwing parties when he was 16. At 22, he founded Butter (restaurant and lounge). More hot clubs followed: 1OAK, The Darby, and Up & Down. Now, he’s in the hotel business, with NED in NoMad.
He gestured to his table. “Most of my friends I’ve known since I was 14 15, 16, 17, when I was a derelict running around New York City streets and sneaking into clubs. New York was such a different world then, a vibrant, surreal universe of all types of mixed races. There were no cell phone cameras. People could just let loose, be free, express themselves. They could celebrate if they made $100 million in the stock market or try to forget if they lost it.” That was Richie Akiva in the ’90s.
Liz Elting, in the ’90s, was starting her own empire out of her NYU Stern Business School dorm. “In 1992, I started a company called TransPerfect,” she told me. I looked her thin frame up and down very critically. She explained: It was a translation company. Elting speaks English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin. In 25 years, she built TransPerfect into the largest translation/language solutions company in the world.
She sold it five years ago, started the The Elizabeth Elting Foundation for philanthropy and wrote a book, Dream Big and Win: Translating Passion into Purpose and Creating a Billion-Dollar Business. “It’s a self-made story to motivate others, a Wall Street Journal best seller,” Elting told me. How did she do it? “I started working when I was ten,” she continued. “So, I had saved a few thousand dollars. My business partner had $90,000 in college tuition debt. We did not get outside funding. We just focused on sales sales sales.”
“And we had a frugal culture. I still don’t spend money for the sake of it. I’d rather help use my money to create opportunities for women and people from marginalized communities to become entrepreneurs, help fight against cancer, heart disease, hunger, and lobby for gun safety. I like beautiful things, but I like experiences — and giving back — more.”
As Mayor Adams told the room, “It is a blessing to live rich. It is a sin to die rich. So write another check!”
Then: “I want to talk about our beloved Israel before I leave, why the passion in the Jewish community is so deep for me. We lost the historical connection, specifically with the African-American community and we need to revisit that.” He cited Julius Rosenwald, who, with Booker T. Washington‘s help, built 5,000 schools for Black students across 15 Southern states, and Jews who “gave their lives in the 1964 Mississippi Summer Civil Rights Movement. We have so much in common and we have fought together for so long … marched together .. with Dr. King … But we forgot that we had to continue this, our children had to know each other.
“For those who are radicalized and believe hate is the only way to go, every lawyer in this room should be looking to bring a case against the social media platforms that are pushing this hate. Then, we must be creative about how we come together.”
He cited his initiative to do so: Breaking Bread, Building Bonds. “One thousand dinners across the city, 10 people at a table, all from a different backgrounds. Doing something revolutionary: talking to each other, knowing each other again …. It’s not Facebook, it’s face-to-face interaction. It’s not a tweet, it’s walking down your street. It’s not TikTok, It’s actually shaking someone’s hand ….
“There is a demonic spirit in our entire globe. Every morning, when I wake up and meditate I can feel the pain. People are hurting and hurting people hurt each other …. Look at what’s playing out in Ukraine. Look at what is happening in Israel. Look at what’s going on in South and Central America …. Look at what’s happening on our streets when bullets are taking the lives of children. Look at the increased level of suicide and depression among our young people, self-medicating themselves on fentanyl. Let’s heal NYC. That will cascade and we will heal the globe.”
The evening was presented by Cincoro Tequila, Farfetch, Mielle Organics and Lorraine Schwartz, with additional sponsors including Automotive Sponsor Dennis & Co., Armand de Brignac Champagne, Valmont, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, The Macklowe, Whispering Angel and IKRAA Caviar.
Healing the globe through art was the mission of the Salzburg Festival. But, their gala brought in a completely different crowd and music: opera, not pop. The Festival was founded by Austrian theater director/impresario Max Reinhardt, (novelist, librettist, poet, dramatist and essayist), Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Richard Strauss, at Reinhardt’s Schloss Leopoldskron, in the wake of World War I.
Festival President Kristina Hammer flew in from Austria for the gala. “During the last years of his life,” Hammer told the room, “Max Reinhardt felt almost helpless in the face of the world on fire. A feeling that many of us may share today.” He had conceived of the festival as “a peace project to bring together the best of the best artists from all over the world, no matter which religion, nationality or identity, in the best stages.”
“It is the world’s most renowned and celebrated festival for opera, concert and theater,” Hammer told me later. From mid July through August, last year, there were 241,000 visitors (almost 99% capacity) from more than 80 countries for 179 performances in 15 venues on 46 days. Performers are world class. And there’s always Mozart.
Chairman John French III and wife, Carole Bailey French, were Gala Co-Chairs. Guests included Board President Nabil Chartouni and Board Members Lauren Carpenter, Marifé Hernandez, Alexandra Kauka-Hamill, Horacio Milberg-Uribelarrea, Elisabeth Muhr, Sana H. Sabbagh, as well as Tina Beriro, Rodolfo de Rothschild, Richard Gaddes, Kim and Mark Goldberg, Elbrun and Peter Kimmelman, Michele Gerber Klein, Lola Koch, Princess Caroline Murat, Heidi and Allen Roberts, Prince Mario Max Schaumburg Lippe, Theodora and Albert Simons, Daisy Soros, Barbara Tober, Adrienne and Gigi Vittadini.
Salzburg holds personal memories for John French: “In 1948, my father took me to Europe to see World War II,” he told me. “We went to Salzburg, just after it was picking itself up from nowhere, and saw three operas. I’ve loved opera and Salzburg ever since. I’ve been to the Festival for the past 15 years. We go to something every day. The city itself, with its castle on a hill, is exquisite. The Vienna Philharmonic is the opera pit orchestra. We are patrons of the Met and so forth, but to hear intensive music, I go to Salzburg.”
As we face a 21st Century world on fire (sometimes literally), the performances of soprano Brittany Olivia Loga and tenor Daniel O’Hear brought life to Hammer’s words: “The arts can put their fingers in open wounds, can make people think, and can transform speechlessness into poetry and compositions, conveying and strengthening what ultimately binds us together as a society – tolerance, and the ability to assume social responsibility.”