Meeting Gordon Parks in the late 1990s was a remarkable moment for me, despite my interviewing celebrities for a living. The late, great photographer was shooting a recreation of “A Great Day in Harlem” (the famous Esquire magazine photo of 1950s jazzmen) with hip-hop figures for a XXL magazine cover. Parks and I discussed expatriate author Richard Wright at one point; he offered some personal advice that eventually led to my own exodus abroad to Paris years later. Last night, that photograph sold to Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys at a live Sotheby’s auction for $28,000.
The Gordon Parks Foundation held its seventh Annual Awards Dinner and Auction at Cipriani’s in downtown Manhattan. Celebrated attendees included daughter Leslie Parks, Swizz Beatz (who later deejayed), Alicia Keys, Gayle King, Soledad O’Brien, John Forté, Amar’e Stoudemire, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Chelsea Clinton, Kevin Liles, Vera Wang, Mellody Hobson and George Lucas. Electric lady Janelle Monáe closed out the dinner portion of the star-studded night with renditions of “Tightrope” and the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”
“You’re actually helping arts education when you’re giving back to communities that you come from,” said former record exec (Island Def Jam, Warner Bros.) Kevin Liles. “Gordon was such an inspiration to us all artistically. More people to need to know about the great work for the Foundation, so we’ve come out to support.”
Raising over one million dollars for the Foundation, the dinner also honored Mellody Hobson and George Lucas with the first Gordon Parks Patron of the Arts Award, for their $25 million donation to create an arts hall (to be named after Parks) at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Other honorees included artist-photographer Lorna Simpson and jazz trumpeter Irvin Mayfield.
“[Parks’s] legacy must live on,” said actress Sherry Bronfman (of the Parks-directed Shaft). “This foundation really preserves his works, and continues to show his works in galleries and shows. More importantly, it’s something that’s encouraging to all the photographers that have come after him, and to all of those people who want to become photographers.”
—Miles Marshall Lewis (additional red carpet reporting by Eeshé White)