Art for Life Benefit Raises Funds for Youths

Johnny Nunez/WireImage
Johnny Nunez/WireImage

(The Root) — It turns out, the couple that doesn't stay together actually plays together very well. Russell Simmons — along with his former wife, and honorary chair of the event, Kimora Lee and the music honcho's brother Danny — presented a star-studded Art for Life fundraiser on Saturday, July 28, to support the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation.


The charity exposes inner-city youths to the arts and provides exhibition opportunities to some underrepresented artists of color. The event raised more than $2 million while honoring the philanthropic efforts of celebrity couples including Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon and Tamia and Grant Hill, as well as corporate givers such as the Bancorp Inc. CEO Betsy Z. Cohen and Sun Capital Partners Inc. co-CEO Marc J. Leder.

The affair was the 13th annual fundraiser that Simmons has held at his East Hampton, N.Y., home. Every year an enormous white tent is set up on his lawn, and with the rain, it definitely came in handy this year. But the weather did not dampen the event, although it may have affected some hairdos.

"If I had known it was going to rain the way it did, I would have sold more tables," Simmons told The Root. As it was, more than 800 people came out for the $1,500-per-ticket event, a turnout that the music mogul said was possible because of "good music, pretty girls and rich men … and rich women."

One of the richest women there may have been honoree Carey, who just signed an $18 million deal to replace Jennifer Lopez as a judge on American Idol. "There is nothing like it for me to be able to do what I love for a living, and to be able to give back is one of the greatest gifts that I can imagine," Carey said after being recognized for her philanthropy.

Her hubby brought the comedy. "I should get an award for getting my wife here on time," he said. After thanking the organization for the award, Cannon also plugged his show, America's Got Talent.

They were not the only two people with talent shows at the event. The X Factor judge L.A. Reid and his former producer partner Babyface made an appearance. While not plugging his show, Reid did plug the charity and the Hamptons, where the record exec-turned-TV commentator also owns a summer home. "When the Almighty Creator created the planet Earth, he picked some designated spots that were just enchanted," he said. "This is one of them."


"Enchanting" was also a good way to describe the party, with performances by Anita Baker, Diggy Simmons and Melanie Fiona. Salt-N-Pepa really got the well-heeled crowd up and dancing in their Louboutins and loafers. This year's theme was "Living in Color!" and guests were asked to wear orange, aqua blue, chartreuse and fuchsia. Carey chose a hot-pink, one-shoulder, floor-length dress that clung to her svelte post-baby physique.

The night's emcee, CNN newswoman Soledad O'Brien, opted for black because of the rain. In fact, she was doing double duty, having hosted her own Hamptons fundraiser the previous night for the charitable organization she runs with her husband, Brad Raymond, that supports the education of young women. O'Brien considers Simmons an inspiration. "He is a role model for those of us who have smaller philanthropic organizations," O'Brien said. "He does it right and does it with such passion — and masterfully — and I think a lot of us learn from him."


In addition, NBA star Hill and his singer wife, Tamia, were honored for their support of African-American artists through their foundation. The day before, Hill had joined Michelle Obama as part of the U.S. presidential delegation for the 2012 London Olympics. "I had a chance to be with the first lady, fly over on Air Force Two, sit with her and drive to and from the Olympic ceremony with her. We discussed politics, family. I certainly treasured it," Hill said. "To be at the Olympics and the opening ceremony is one thing, but to share that with the first lady was quite an honor."

It seemed as if Hill just couldn't stop giving, and his wife had to pull him away from the silent auction (which continues on the Web through Aug. 8). Supporters can bid on concert tickets and a day on the road with Lady Gaga; a chance to meet Will Smith at the premiere of After Earth; and courtside Lakers tickets, plus dinner with Magic Johnson.


There was also artwork from Rush Arts available to bid on during the night. During a live auction, Star Jones raised $365,000 for Art for Life. Black South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe and filmmaker Tyler Perry, who was not in attendance, provided 50 percent of that substantial sum, further proving the power of giving.

Julie Walker is a New York-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.

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