Mary J. Blige, Pat Benatar Take On Breast Cancer, Prove Women Rock!

Nelly Furtado, Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow also on hand for four-hour special.

HOLLYWOOD — Mary J. Blige and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines rocked Etta James’ “At Last,” Nelly Furtado rocked an acoustic “I’m Like a Bird,” and a host of female singers rocked the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” at Thursday’s second annual Women Rock! — Girls & Guitars breast cancer benefit.

The concert, taped for broadcast October 26 on Lifetime, was a four-hour extravaganza of collaborations that brought together leading female artists in rock, country, folk and soul.

“We’re such a pairing of unique voices,” Pat Benatar said after the show. “It’s one thing to hear someone on record, but to hear them right up close like that is amazing.”

Benatar opened Thursday’s taping with a raucous rendition of “Heartbreaker” performed with Sheryl Crow, the Dixie Chicks and newcomer Shea Seger. She followed by dueting on “We Belong” with Seger and showcasing her guitarist and husband Neil Giraldo on “Invincible.”

“We wanted to do ‘Invincible’ because it’s such an uplifting song about strength, and ‘We Belong’ because the sentiment is so beautiful,” Benatar said.

Benatar and many of the other performers have close ties to breast cancer and spoke adamantly about Women Rock! and Lifetime’s goal of raising awareness about breast cancer and finding a cure.

“My mother passed away from breast cancer two years ago,” Giraldo said. “If she would have known about the awareness programs that are around and knew what to do, she would probably still be here. It was attached to her bone and it was too late to do anything. So it’s very special for us to be here.”

Seger said her mother dealt with a different form of cancer and that she had close friends who have faced breast cancer. “It’s a hideous disease for women,” Seger said. “Like what was said tonight, the ignorance about it is far more widespread than ignorance about a lot of things. This opened my eyes to learning about taking care of myself.”

One of the evening’s performers, Beth Nielsen Chapman, has recovered from breast cancer. Both Seger and Furtado, the youngest performers at Women Rock!, said they learned a lot from talking to the singer.

“Something Beth pointed out, she was saying that it kind of bothers her that people use words like ‘battle’ and ‘survivor’ when they’re talking about breast cancer,” Furtado said. “That’s the problem. We’re trying to remove the stigma from breast cancer, ’cause it’s such a real thing. I’m 22. Young people don’t want to think about breast cancer. They think it’s their mom’s disease. That’s why I’m here. I’m trying to get rid of that stigma. Talk about boobs. Talk about examining your breast. That’s what it’s all about.”

Furtado’s tranquil version of “I’m Like a Bird” midway through the show garnered some of the evening’s loudest applause.

“I love playing it that way because that’s the way I wrote it,” Furtado said. “There’s a lot of elements to what I do, so it’s nice to showcase different sides. One minute I’m rapping, and the next I’m singing and playing guitar.”

The Canadian singer returned to the stage only for the grand finale, which included all of the Women Rock! guests sitting on stools in a half-circle and jamming out to the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” and the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”

The Dixie Chicks, especially Maines, were the evening’s most frequent performers, taking the stage with just about all of the acts. Their highlights included a duet with Crow on her “It Don’t Hurt” and the standard “Mary” with Nielsen Chapman and Emmylou Harris.

Blige was the show stealer, however, pacing the stage and belting out the title track to her latest album, No More Drama.

India.Arie, who was scheduled to perform, and Allison Janney of “The West Wing,” who was scheduled to host, did not make the event due to scheduling conflicts, according to Lifetime.