A&E Exec Talks Pharrell Williams' And John Legend's Instrumental Roles in Race-Relations Concert Special

Pharrell Williams

"Based on the artists' reactions, particularly Pharrell, we’ve expanded it to include conversations on race in places all over the country where we bring people in the community together … with the artists to talk about their experiences. I don’t think anyone has ever attempted to put together something quite like this, on this scale," says Rob Sharenow.

Many music artists have released song dedications and staged one-off benefit concerts with hopes of bringing attention to racial issues in America. But later this month, A+E Networks and iHeartMedia will join forces to take the conversation to a massive, national level.

On Nov. 20 at 8 p.m. ET, the media companies will broadcast Shining a Light: A Concert for Progress on Race in America, a two-hour benefit special that will feature Pharrell Williams, John Legend, Bruce Springsteen, Ed Sheeran, P!nk, Zac Brown Band and more performing songs meant to inspire a constructive dialogue about race relations in America. Plans for the event were set into motion after the June killing of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.

"Race is … not an easy thing to talk about and sing about," says Rob Sharenow, executive VP/GM of A&E and Lifetime. "The artists that are coming forward see it as a unique opportunity to engage in a conversation that’s often not talked about. It’s become more than a concert. Based on the artists' reactions, particularly Pharrell, we’ve expanded it to include conversations on race in places all over the country where we bring people in the community together … with the artists to talk about their experiences. I don’t think anyone has ever attempted to put together something quite like this, on this scale."

The event — which will be helmed by Grammy Awards executive producer Ken Ehrlich and also include performances from Big Sean, Miguel, Jill Scott, Sia, Eric Church, Jamie Foxx, Rhiannon Giddens, Tori Kelly and Sting — films on Nov. 18 at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium. The concert will air across six A+E Networks (A&E, Lifetime, History, H2, LMN and FYI), and iHeartMedia will support the concert across its radio stations and digital platform.

Sharenow says that Williams and Legend were instrumental in creating the focus and format of the event, which will be a poignant mixture of conversation and live music. "[They] both really wanted it to be more than just getting up and singing songs," he says. "They wanted it to reach out and touch the community and hear from voices that aren’t heard. Pharrell actually evolved the title Shining a Light. He’s been a very powerful voice in driving how we’ve evolved our thinking on the project."

In addition to their onstage performances, Williams and Legend will also be featured in Conversations on Race in America, a one-hour TV special airing at 10 p.m. ET, immediately following the concert. The program will follow the artists to Charleston, as well Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., where they will engage with local community members and inspire solutions-based conversations about racial bias and violence in America.

"Our hope is that taking it local will really have a profound impact, because the communities themselves need the healing. It’s one thing to broadcast a TV special or show, but another thing to go there with them," says Sharenow.

“The whole idea of the concert is to shine a light on these issues and on the people who don’t get heard from after the news crew leaves the scene of an ugly incident,” he continues. “Our hope is that it will be a spark to reignite a more purpose-driven voice in music, which has been a little dormant.”

Money raised from the event, which has already generated $150,000 in ticket sales, will benefit the Fund for Progress on Race in America powered by United Way Worldwide. The funds will be granted to organizations working toward racial justice and progress. A blue-ribbon panel of leading organizations involved in social justice and race will decide how the money is dispersed.

Beyond the benefit concert and TV special, A&E will air a series of public service announcements to further promote the fund.

Below listen to the Shining Light artist playlist compiled by DJ Allie Teilz

This story first appeared on billboard.com

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