On Saturday, June 19, the inaugural Juneteenth Unityfest presented by the Robert Randolph Foundation brought together a star-studded lineup of artists, influencers, activists and sponsors for a virtual festival.
During the five-plus hour program, the live stream was seen by over 1.1 million viewers on several platforms including LiveXLive, Ebony.com and YouTube. Taking place just two days after Juneteenth was signed into law as a federal holiday, this year’s celebration was especially joyous and served as a tribute to the breadth and depth of Black culture and Juneteenth as a uniquely American experience. The entire festival is available now via the official website and YouTube until Monday, July 19. To view the program please visit: Robert Randolph Foundation YouTube Channel, LiveXLive or www.juneteenthunityfest.com.
“I saw Juneteenth as a day to come together as Black Americans first, and as Americans – to talk about our history, our struggles, and what we have accomplished. We are beyond grateful to all the artists, celebrities, grassroots organizations, and sponsors who helped us create a space to celebrate and reflect on what it means to be Black in America. Most importantly, Juneteenth Unityfest provided an essential platform to unite a coalition of charitable grassroots organizations bringing together diverse voices in commemoration. The Robert Randolph Foundation is committed to continuing to unite and amplify the efforts of these amazing grassroots organizations so that they can continue making progress in our communities. We are excited for Juneteenth Unityfest 2022, where we will be live across the country celebrating. In the meantime, I encourage you to watch this year’s Juneteenth Unityfest here,” said Robert Randolph, founder of the Robert Randolph Foundation and Festival founder and chairman.
The celebration kicked off with a stirring recording of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” from his historic 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival appearance. Symbolic of the cultural shift in the mindset of the nation at the time, the performance was a perfect introduction to reflect the power and influence of Black voices and how they have impacted the course of American history.
Following the recording, the live performances kicked off with Nile Rodgers & CHIC who brought the energy with the timeless hit single, “Good Times.” Festival founder and chairman, Robert Randolph then welcomed viewers before turning the program over to host: actress and author Amanda Seales.
One of the highlights of the night were the remarks made by Ms. Opal Lee who attended a Juneteenth Unityfest watch party with community partner and sponsor, Heal America. Lauded as the ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth,’ the 94-year-old activist’s commentary embodied the enthusiasm, determination, and relentless perseverance she exhibited to preserve the significance of Juneteenth. Having stood in the White House just days prior, witnessing her life’s work come to fruition, the weight of her words were incredibly emotional and provided a moment of reflection on how far the nation has come, and a reminder of the work there is left to be done.
“I am heartened by the millions of Americans who observed Juneteenth, many for the first time,” said Dr. DeForest Soaries, co-chair of Heal America, a movement to fight racial injustice with love and redemption, which sponsored Juneteenth Unityfest. “We hope the enthusiasm surrounding this year’s Juneteenth Unityfest marks the beginning of the healing that is to come. This is a sign to all of us that through a day of remembrance, commemoration, and celebration, we can continue to make meaningful progress in this country toward liberty and equality for all.”
There was no shortage of talent as the night blazed on with outstanding performances by: India Arie, Ledisi, Darius Rucker, Judith Hill, The Soul Rebels, Earth, Wind & Fire, Bebe Winans, Aloe Blacc, Keb' Mo', Black Pumas, Khruangbin, Jimmie Allen, Phony PPL, Shelea, Korean Soul, Michael Franti, and Dave Matthews & Carter Beauford.
Later in the show, Amanda turned hosting duties over to comedian, JB Smoove, who provided his unique brand of humor into the production. Celebrity spotlights highlighted the significance of Juneteenth in between performances, with appearances by: Van Jones, Jesse Williams, LeVar Burton, Billy Porter, Wilson Cruz, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Zach Galifinakis, Wayne Brady, Aisha Tyler, Jon Hamm, and Roger Guenveur Smith. Lynn Nottage, Holly Robinson Peete, and Djimon Hounsou also made appearances, sharing personal anecdotes about what the holiday means to them.
Highlights from the event included:
Phylicia Rashad from the landmark Stevenson Ranch
Lucky Daye performed, presented by Crown Royal Regal Apple
We Are Family Foundation (WAFF) spoken word performances
Achievement and Challenges of being Black in Sports with Washington Football Team President Jason Wright, Olympic great Gail Devers, and Tennis Icon Zina Garrison
Cultural moments with Craig Robinson on “Code Switching” and its relevance and necessity
The landmark event closed with final remarks by Robert Randolph, followed by another recording of Jimi Hendrix, performing “Purple Haze” at the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival, which brought the event full circle. Finally, Nile Rodgers & CHIC played the festival out with a performance of “We Are Family,” summing up the sentiment of unity felt by performers and viewers alike.
Juneteenth Unityfest was made possible by phenomenal sponsors and partners like Heal America, a movement to fight racial injustice, EBONY as the official media partner and LiveXLive as the official streaming partner. Additional sponsors included: Amazon, Crown Royal Regal Apple, the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative, and P&G’s Widen The Screen initiative. Getty Images and OWN also provided special content. You can view all images from Juneteenth Unityfest courtesy of Getty Images here.
A significant portion of the content and context for the festival came from the 35+ community partners who shared their stories about their contributions to the culture. Participating organizations included: AARP, African American Museum in Philadelphia, Benedict College, Heal America, Urban Specialists, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI), Hip Hop Caucus, HOLA, Invisible Warriors, Jobs For The Future (JFF), The Links Incorporated, Mile High United Way, Muhammad Ali Center, The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Umoja Events Juneteenth NYC Festival, Unity Unlimited, Inc., Usher’s New Look, and We Are Family Foundation.
Juneteenth Unityfest was produced by Empire Entertainment in collaboration with Red Light Management with creative direction and head writing by Paul Oakley Stovall.