City of Hope gala: Sylvia Rhone, CEO of Epic Records, receives honors, En Vogue performs


Alicia Keys and Sara Bareilles teamed up at the City of Hope’s Spirit of Life Gala on Thursday for a musical salute to Sylvia Rhone, chairman and chief executive officer of Epic Records, and performed a duet fittingly for the honoree — a mashup of their respective songs, “Girl on Fire” and “Brave.”

“We’re so happy to be here to honor you, Sylvia,” said Bareilles, a seven-time Grammy, three-time Emmy and two-time Tony nominee. “You are such an amazing mentor and a guiding light for me in my career.”

Added Keys, a15-time Grammy Award winner, “I think we all have that power to be brave and to be in our power as we reach back and continue to lift others up along with us.” She said the evening was “a powerful testament to what that does and how that makes us all so much stronger.”


The event

At the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica, the City of Hope’s Music, Film and Entertainment Industry Group honored Rhone at the black-tie affair, which raised more than $4 million for the world-renowned research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other illnesses. Rhone is the first African American woman to receive the charity’s Spirit of Life award.

The entertainment

In a night filled with music, Yolanda Adams serenaded the audience with a series of her hit tunes, stopping briefly to address Rhone. “She is the reason I don’t take no for an answer ever anymore,” said the four-time Grammy-winning gospel singer. “Most of those songs that you heard me sing, Miss Sylvia Rhone made sure that they were heard by the world.”


Before guests adjourned for an afterparty in the adjacent tent, DJ Khaled took the microphone to introduce a reunited En Vogue for a surprise performance as the night’s final tribute to the honoree.

The program

Music industry VIPs took turns at the podium, beginning with Evan Lamberg, who spoke of Rhone’s “smashing glass ceilings,” not only for women but also for people of color. Lamberg is president of Universal Music Publishing Group North America.

City of Hope Spirit of Life Gala
Kuk Harrell speaks onstage during the City of Hope Spirit of Life Gala.
(Lester Cohen / Getty Images for City of Hope)

After a stirring medley by Adams, Jimmy Jam introduced fellow songwriter-producer Kuk Harrell, listing Harrell’s collaborations with music superstars Rihanna, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige and others. For his part, Harrell praised the City of Hope as he recounted his fight against prostate cancer.

He fought back tears as he expressed gratitude for his care team’s compassion. “I was overwhelmed with joy because I knew right then I was in the right place,” he said.

The annual Rock4EB! event raised more than $900,000 to fund research and find treatments for epidermolysis bullosa. Guests included Sean Penn, Rami Malek, Bill Maher, Kaley Cuoco, Courteney Cox, Catherine O’Hara, Elizabeth Olsen, David Spade, Cindy Crawford, Rande Gerber and Kaia Gerber.

Oct. 7, 2019

The honoree

Stepping up to the podium, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivered the tribute to Rhone, who is credited with the launch and guidance of Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, Tracy Chapman and Metallica, among other music superstars.

“It was not a hard decision for me to make — to be the Spirit of Life honoree,” said Rhone onstage, “because I sat in these rooms for 20 years, wondering if there would be anybody up here that looked like me getting an award, and I sat there with a great deal of respect for those honorees. No question about it. They were amazing men, but it was time for a change. I want each and every one of you, especially for the women and people of color, to understand one of my motivations. … I particularly did it because it will open doors for everybody else, and so, this is for us.”

She closed with advice for the young people in the room. “As you rise in your careers, “ she said, “don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone. … The door is open, and now the only question is, ‘What do you want to do to make your mark and what are you going to do to give back?’”

The crowd

Among many in the audience were Meghan Trainor, Daryl Sabara, 21 Savage, Zara Larsson, Keltie Knight, Forest Whitaker, Clarence Avant and Robert Stone, president and chief executive officer of City of Hope.

The numbers

Tickets for the 1,150 guests began at $1,500, with tables of 10 ranging to $60,000.