By Lucas Villa
After suffering what he described as a brutal attack last Tuesday (January 29), Empire star Jussie Smollett returned to the spotlight on Saturday night for an intimate concert at The Troubadour in L.A. While moving the crowd with his music, the visibly shaken singer-slash-actor also opened up about the incident that led to his hospitalization last week.
Smollett took to the stage alone, wearing pins on his pants that included a rainbow ribbon to support the LGBTQ community, a red stop sign that read "Stop Killing Us," and a raised fist — a symbol synonymous with Black Power.
"I'm OK," he said with tears in his eyes to a roomful of fans who applauded his words while offering support of their own. "I'm not fully healed yet but I'm going to. I'm gonna stand strong with y’all. I had to be here tonight. It sounds powerful, but I couldn't let those motherfuckers win. I will always stand for love and I hope that you all stand with me."
In what his family condemned in a statement as a “racial and homophobic hate crime,” Smollett, 36, was allegedly attacked in Chicago on the morning of January 29 by two men who put his neck in noose while screaming, "This is MAGA country!" Though Smollett’s concert at the Troubadour had already been scheduled prior to the attack, it wasn't immediately known if the show would still take place. But on Friday, Smollett's team let ticket-holders know that he would perform as planned but that meet-and-greets were cancelled for "security reasons." Instead, fans were given the option of either receiving a refund for the VIP upgrade or letting the money be donated in their name to the Black AIDS Institute.
So, despite the pouring rain in L.A. on Saturday night, fans lined up around the corner to see Smollett's concert. The situation also attracted the police, media, and assembled protesters, who called for the "end of the Trump regime," to the small venue. Once doors opened, his supporters, family, and colleagues — including Empire creator Lee Daniels and Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters — filled the place up. The soulful hymns of June's Diary, a group on Smollett's Music of Sound label, opened the show before all of Smollett’s siblings appeared in front of the crowd afterward to further address the incident.
"If I'm honest, as his big brother, I wanted to Jussie sit this one out," Joel Smollett, Jr. said before Jussie took the stage. "I sincerely wanted him to stay out of public until he heals, but after much debating, arguing, and many tears, my family and I realized that tonight is an important part of Jussie's healing."
Then, after Jussie took the stage himself and assured his fans that he was OK, the performer jumped out. "Let's fuck it up and have a good time!" Smollett yelled before grooving to the funky "Freedom,” a cut straight from the Empire soundtrack.
Smollett was as animated while running through the music from his debut album, 2018's Sum of My Music, and songs that were part of the Empire repertoire. Feeding off the crowd's supportive response, he was laughing, joking, smiling, and even gossiping throughout the show. Before singing the sultry "Ha Ha (I Love You)," Jussie revealed he wrote that song about his boyfriend, who was also in attendance. "I see y’all looking up there," Smollett said to nosy fans trying to scope out the guy during the performance. "Mind ya business!"
But, when reminded of the events of the past week, Smollett didn't hesitate to make himself vulnerable to the room. While getting ready to perform "Heavy," a song from Empire about the weight of representing a community, he shared, "It kind of has new meaning to me." And a heartfelt ballad about acceptance was modified with the new lyrics, as he urged the audience to "stand up for each other / stand up for your sisters and brothers."
From there, Smollett launched into "Hurt People," another Sum of My Music highlight.
"It's about the cycle of hurt," he said. "The hateful rhetoric that gets passed around, it has to stop. But guess what? It stops with the people that lead with love." Joined by June’s Diary, Smollett brought down the house with a pitch perfect performance that he punctuated by sending a pointed message to his assailants, and anyone who read the story of his alleged assault. "I fought the fuck back," Smollett said, drawing loud cheers from the sold-out audience. "I'm the gay Tupac!"
In one last plea to his fans, Smollett said, "Now's the time: Be blacker! Be gayer! Do it right the fuck now!" A feeling of solidarity with Smollett swept the room as it filled with roaring applause, raised fists, and hands formed into the shape of a heart.
We can all take action to stop racism and homophobia. To learn more about issues affecting the LGBTQ community, head to lgbt.mtv.com.