News & Politics

A Night Out: Wyclef and the “Chance To Shine” Gala

Wyclef tears up the Kennedy Center to honor local students.

Wyclef jams with the gala crowd.

What: Washington Metropolitan Scholars "A Chance to Shine" Higher Education Gala

Where: Kennedy Center South Gallery

When: Friday, November 10, 2006, 6 p.m. until 10ish.

Who:  The event honored the President and CEO of WMS Avis Robinson, along with BET founder Bob Johnson and the CEO of the Washington Post Company, Donald Graham.  Former Los Angeles Times editor Patricia Bauer was there, as was Cornell University Associate Provost Doris Davis and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson (a.k.a. Avis' husband). WUSA Channel 9 anchor Bruce Johnson emceed the event, but by far the biggest celebrity was former Fugees member and "Hips Don't Lie" rapper Wyclef Jean.

Also in attendance were two success stories from WMS scholarships: Tshaka Cunningham and Valerie Russell. Cunningham received his scholarship in 1992 and went pre-med at Princeton and today is a doctor studying HIV and AIDS at the NIH. Russell is currently a sophomore at Columbia University. 

Food: The pre-reception included a variety of appetizers, including salmon spring rolls, beef, and camembert cheese with chestnut purée. At 7 p.m., an a capella performance signaled the start of dinner, and after guests made their way to tables the meal started with a mixed green salad with walnuts, goat cheese, pear and pear vinaigrette. The main course included beef tenderloin and poached main lobster with caramelized yellow potatoes and grilled asparagus and corn with white balsamic and tarragon reduction.  This was followed by an even more delicious desert of apple tart with cinnamon ice cream, candied pecans and caramel sauce.

Beverage of choice:  Although there were two full open bars, most guests kept up the festive spirit by drinking glasses of Domaine Michelle champagne, Ravenswood Chardonney or Merlot.  

Scene:  The purpose of this gala was to recognize a number of people involved with Washington Metropolitan Scholars, a group that helps high-achieving African-American high school students attend top-rate colleges by paying their undergraduate tuition fees. There was definitely a sense of celebration in the air at this cocktail-attire reception, dinner, honors program, and concert. Women were decked out in everything from sequined tops to leapord print dresses as they mingled with the wealthy donors and guests of honor with their families. Fresh-faced and eager-to-please catering staff lined the room with open bottles of champagne ready to refill at a moment's notice as everyone ate dinner and enjoyed remarks by all the special guests, including the congenial Bob Johnson, who had the whole crowd cracking up throughout his speech.

After the dinner and honors program, music piped through the gold-curtained gallery while catering staff cleared the tables and made room on the dance floor in anticipation of Wyclef Jean's performance and the booty-shaking it would inevitably inspire. Before long, the sparkly-guitar wielding hip hop artist—always ready to lend his talent for a good cause—took the stage with his band and sister, who provided stellar vocals on a couple songs. Wyclef opened the performance with Guantanamera and played a variety of crowd-pleasing favorites including "No Woman No Cry," "Redemption Song," Fugee throwback "Ready or Not," "Staying Alive," and his latest big hit with Shakira, "Hips Don't Lie." He made no mystery of his politics, saying at several points "If you're happy that the Dems have taken over, put your hands up!" and urging the crowd to "Vote for Wyclef in the next election."  Guests of all ages and races shared the dance floor with such enthusiasm that Wyclef actually singled out the one guy in the back of the room was not dancing and forced him onstage for a lesson in getting down.

Evening Highlight: A tie between the choreographed dance that Wyclef shared with his huge, mountain-man security guard, and the ecstatic waiter who got pulled up onstage to dance and exchange jackets with Wyclef, who ended up letting him keep the yellow track jacket he had been wearing. It's rare that a party can get almost the entire room dancing, from the wait staff to the grandmas and security guards.

Bold Face Guests: 3 (out of 5)
Swankiness: 4 (out of 5)
Food/Drinks: 4 (out of 5)
Overall Exclusivity: 4 (out of 5)

Total Score: 15 (out of 20)

Bob Johnson and Avis Robinson.
Post CEO Don Graham with WMS star Tshaka Cunningham.
Bob and Bruce Johnson.

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