On Wednesday Torontonians came out to raise money for the Stephen Lewis AIDS Foundation, an organization dedicated to raising money and awareness for women and children with HIV/AIDS in Africa. Women and children account for 60% of all new cases of the disease and yet are still the demographic receiving the slowest response, and the Stephen Lewis Foundation aims to correct that goal.
Hope Rising is in its second year and is already a huge success. This year's show was hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, who kicked off the evening paying tribute to US President Barack Obama who had just been re-elected for a second term. Jian mentioned Obama's recent hope of an 'AIDS free generation' and joked about how he was tired from late night election tweeting.
Annie Lennox was the headliner for the evening, and performed sick with a cold after thanking Toronto doctors for giving her excellent treatment while she was here. She was in fine vocal form and the crowd loved her as she performed a solo set of six songs, ending with Universal Child while a video of with African children played in the background.
Act 2 began with Canadian superstar Sarah McLachlan, who leant her gorgeous vocals and gracious spirit to the foundation for the evening. Her popular hit Angels struck an emotional chord with the audience, many of whom could be seen tearing up during the performance. African singer Angelique Kidjo closed out the evening by going into the audience and getting all of Roy Thompson Hall dancing to her energetic music.
Actress Thandie Newton made a surprise appearance to deliver a touching speech discussing Stephen's work with rape victims in Africa and recounting a story of how she first met the man she has gone on to passionately support. Later Ms. Newton could be spotted dancing enthusiastically in the aisles to Ms. Kidjo's music, and she joined the group on stage for the encore
The encore was perhaps the highlight of the evening, as Annie Lennox returned to the stage wearing an HIV POSITIVE shirt to perform Sisters Are Doing it for Themselves with McLachlan and Kidjo. Then the trio sang Happy Birthday to Stephen, who celebrated his 75th birthday on Sunday. The evening was very much a celebration of the extremely talented women on stage as well as a tribute to Mr. Lewis and his daughter Ilana for their tireless and passionate efforts towards raising awareness for a group of people who so desperately deserve it.
Mr. Lewis closed the evening with a touching speech where he paid tribute to all the wonderful employees and volunteers of the Stephen Lewis AIDS Foundation, as well as all the performers who so graciously offered to come and support his cause. He urged everyone to always remember that while HIV/AIDS is no longer in the public eye as much as it once was, it is still very much a part of many people's lives and we are still without a cure. It was a sombre moment with an underlying optimism fitting of an evening entitled Hope Rising. BWW is thrilled to bring readers photos from the red carpet and the event.
Hope Rising will be broadcast on CBC November 30th in honour of World AIDS Day.
For more information on the Stephen Lewis AIDS Foundation or to learn how you can help, please visit their official website at www.stephenlewisfoundation.org/
All photos by Racheal McCaig Photography