WEST HOLLYWOOD, California — Mary J. Blige, Carlos Santana, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and MTV’s Judy McGrath were honored with Rock the Vote Patrick Lippert Awards on Tuesday night for their activist efforts — but you don’t have to be a rock star to change the world, they said.
“As you know, we are all committed on this planet to spreading the spiritual virus,” Santana said in accepting an award for his work with his Milagro Foundation, which supports the rights of indigenous people and strives to improve the lives of at-risk children. He then launched into a series of statistics regarding poverty, disease and civil and human rights.
“This guy is incomparable, inspirational, and he is the real deal,” said Matchbox Twenty singer Rob Thomas, who presented his “Smooth” collaborator with the award.
The ceremony — this year at the House of Blues and featuring performances by Foo Fighters, Black Eyed Peas, Jill Scott and Tenacious D — is held annually by the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization Rock the Vote, dedicated to protecting freedom of expression and empowering young people to make change.
Blige was honored for her activism with the Partnership for a Drug Free America, the Million Family March, Special Olympics, M.A.C. AIDS Foundation and the Christopher Wallace Foundation, which is named for late rapper Notorious B.I.G. and raises money for schools.
“I feel like I deserve this award,” the R&B singer said as she made her way into the venue.
After Eve presented her the honor, Blige stressed the importance of educating America’s youth about voting and their ability to make change, while confessing she has yet to register to vote herself.
“We’ve got to educate the children on what to do for the future … and even the grown-ups that don’t know, because I am somebody that did not know, and never registered to vote, and never knew how to register to vote, and still gotta register to vote.”
Moby presented McGrath, president of the MTV Group and chairman of interactive music, with the Founder’s Award, recognizing her dedication to the organization over the past 11 years. MTV has contributed more than $10 million in on-air programming time and donations in support of the Rock the Vote initiatives.
“[McGrath] tells us that there are constructive outlets for people who are worried about the world’s problems, as long as they seek them out,” Moby said.
McGrath began her acceptance speech focusing on the recent presidential election, calling for reform within the voting system. “With the Florida fiasco and Supreme Court’s rush to judgment, this last vote has not been rocked — not totally and not really deep down.”
Truly rocking the vote, she continued, is much more than simply casting ballots. “We have to encourage more people to enter the circle of fire … so next time we’ll actually have issues and candidates to get passionate about. … Sure, we have an uphill battle, but that’s really no problem, because time, rock and roll, R&B, rap and hip-hop are on our side.”
Jackson received the Rock the Nation Award for his work with the Rainbow Coalition, Operation Breadbasket and Operation PUSH, among other initiatives.
Previous Rock the Vote honorees include Neil Young, R.E.M., Chuck D, U2’s
Bono, Wyclef Jean, Sheryl Crow, the Beastie Boys and Sting.
Lippert, a former Rock the Vote president, led a voter registration project that resulted in a 20 percent increase in youth-voter turnout in the 1992 presidential election. He died in 1993 of AIDS-related pneumonia.