On Saturday March 25, 2017, the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) and the Hammer Museum at UCLA presented a special celebration honoring Elton John’s 70th birthday and his unprecedented 50-year songwriting collaboration with Bernie Taupin. Hosted by actor Rob Lowe, the event was held at Red Studios and sponsored by AEG Presents, Neuro Drinks and Diana Jenkins, and Survival Pictures. The celebration was chaired by David Bohnett, Richard Buckley and Tom Ford, Sir Lucian and Lady Caroline Grainge, Diana Jenkins, Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Jay Marciano.
The gala dinner was designed by Craig’s Los Angeles. Perrier-Jouët provided champagne, Domaine Bertaud Belieu wines, Chopin Vodka and Clase Azul Tequila spirits, and La Tavola table linens.
Host Rob Lowe noted in his opening remarks, “[Elton and Bernie] are two incredibly talented people, whose impressive body of work and long creative partnership have a great deal to teach us about love and loyalty and to inspire us to reach out to others in need. In fact, Elton specifically wanted us to use his birthday and this special occasion to support two causes he cares about a great deal – the visual arts and ending AIDS.” To that end, the event raised nearly $2.8 million to help fund the grant-making initiatives of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and exhibitions and programs at the Hammer Museum.
Actor James Corden introduced a video paying tribute to Elton’s songwriting collaboration with Bernie Taupin. But first, he read a special tribute to Elton and Bernie penned by renowned pop music critic Robert Hilburn, former music editor of the Los Angeles Times from 1970 to 2005, who covered many of Elton’s major U.S. performances, including his very first American performance at the Troubadour in West Hollywood.
About that career-launching performance, Hilburn wrote, “Bernie’s lyrics are rooted in country music and the blues, giving the stories a character and soulfulness that isn’t usually found in mainstream pop. Elton then turned the lyrics into masterful accounts of the human experience—from moments of rejection and doubt to triumph and jubilation . . . . Amazingly, 50 years on, the talent and passion remains undiminished. Thank you, Elton and thank you, Bernie. Thousands of pop artists have had hits, but few have truly made a difference. Your legacy is not only intact; it continues to grow.”
To introduce a video about Elton as a humanitarian, actor Neil Patrick Harris spoke movingly about Elton’s extraordinarily generous contributions to numerous charitable organizations, particularly his 25 years of leadership as the founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Harris noted:
“You always say there is so much more love in the world than hate. So yes, Elton, you’ve filled stadiums around the world with your concerts. Very few people on Earth can do that. But there is no stadium big enough to hold all the people whose lives you’ve touched through your philanthropic work.”
Throughout the evening, surprise musical guests presented special tribute performances. Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams performed “Rocket Man.” Grammy Award Winner Rosanne Cash sang “Border Song.” Grammy and Golden Globe Award winner Lady Gaga performed acoustic versions of her hits “Born This Way” and “Bad Romance.” And multi-Grammy Award winner Stevie Wonder rounded out the night with “Daniel,” “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” and along with Lady Gaga also sang “Happy Birthday” for Elton.
On reaching his 70th year, Elton stated, “I’m interested in moving forward all the time, with what I create, my collaborations, and also with discovering the work of other people. I think age is immaterial, provided we keep our minds alive by being open to new things. I can be as excited by a new artist who plays me their demo as I am by a new record of one of my musical heroes. I can be excited by playing a new city I’ve never played before, or revisiting somewhere I know well and seeing how it’s changed. Life is a constant state of flux for us all, and I like to embrace that. I also feel very happy to use my position to bring attention to injustice in the world, and to try to help where I can. At this time in my life I’m the happiest I have ever been.”
All of us at EJAF are thrilled with the results of this unique celebration and fundraising event, and we are deeply grateful to all of the individuals and organizations that helped to make this benefit such an incredible success.