Juneteenth Unityfest


Robert Randolph Talks Juneteenth, Unity & Helping Black Youths “Create Their Future”

Robert Randolph Talks Juneteenth, Unity, & Helping Black Youths “Create Their Future” [Interview]

On June 19th, 2021, the Robert Randolph Foundation hosted the inaugural Juneteenth Unityfest, an all-star streaming event aimed amplify the discussion and celebration of Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the symbolic end of slavery in America.

The event was initially conceived by pedal steel maestro Robert Randolph and his eponymous charitable organization as part of a larger cultural campaign to get Juneteenth recognized as a national holiday. By the time the date rolled around, however, the cries for recognition of this important celebration for the Black community had been met with some action.

As President Joe Biden explained after signing legislation designating Juneteenth (June 19th) as an official federal holiday for the first time, “All Americans can feel the power of this day, and learn from our history.”

With the recognition portion of the mission already locked down, Robert Randolph and the long list of participating artists and organizations focused on the holiday’s other, equally important elements: educating and celebrating.

The five-hour streaming event featured music and storytelling by Randolph as well as Earth, Wind & Fire, Black Pumas, Dave Matthews and Carter Beauford, Khruangbin, Aloe Blacc, Bebe Winans, Darius Rucker, Judith Hill, Phony Ppl, Michael Franti, Jimmie Allen, Keb’ Mo’, Nile Rodgers & CHIC, and more, helping to teach the masses about this long-overlooked milestone in our country’s history and celebrate the vibrant culture that has blossomed in its wake. Even beyond that, the event served as a jumping-off point. From here, this holiday will become bigger, and its impact and message will only grow.

In the wake of the inaugural event, Live For Live Music caught up with Robert Randolph to discuss the complex significance of Juneteenth, its role in dictating the Black American experience for generations to follow, and why celebrations like Juneteenth Unityfest are so important to our growth as a society. He also clued us in on his new Create Your Future Program, part of a coalition of new grassroots initiatives working to make a difference in the Black community.

Watch a highlight reel from the inaugural Juneteenth Unityfest and read the full conversation with Robert Randolph below, edited for length and clarity.

Live For Live Music: Juneteenth Unity Festival was a huge undertaking. Can you tell us a bit about how that came together, the idea behind it?

Robert Randolph: It was actually a huge undertaking. We wanted to figure out a way to celebrate Juneteenth and have people learn about that day. But also knowing that Juneteenth was trying to push to be a holiday at the time, I figured it’d be a great day to galvanize many different Black actors, actresses, and musicians…

Live For Live Music: Why do you feel it’s so important to educate people about the historical context of Juneteenth?

Robert Randolph: [Some people wonder], what are we fighting for? It’s equality for all people, you know? People talk about Juneteenth being the end—”oh, it’s the end of slavery”—but nobody ever really knows what happened next in history. So, especially because this was the first year, [we wanted to] not just use [Juneteenth], but be able to put the correct historical context into where people went, what was the history of it all?

Live For Live Music: It feels appropriate that you put an educational emphasis on the whole Juneteenth Unityfest campaign. That’s the nature of what it celebrates, on some level—this wasn’t the day slavery officially ended, this was the day that slaves in Galveston, TX finally learned they were free, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, more than two months after the Civil War ended. Things can change on paper, but without educating the masses, those changes are much slower in practice.

Robert Randolph: Yeah, and that’s what we wanted to do. You see stories of the Tulsa race massacre and all these different things that happened and everybody’s so shocked that they didn’t know [about them]. There’s a lot of people that don’t know about that story, and it’s not the only one. It’s one of like 80 different stories that were exactly the same.

When you look at the Tulsa story, and Wilmington, so many others… I mean, as a Black person, especially among a family growing up in church, we know all of these stories. Our parents and grandparents and great grandparents would educate us on these stories, but then you go to school and it’s not even mentioned.

Live For Live Music: It’s true. People in different places, from different backgrounds, are still shown different versions of the narrative.

Robert Randolph: And don’t forget, that’s all by design. Because then, politicians and people signing bills can say … “What are those people complaining for? We’ve done them fairly.” It’s like, what? … When did that happen?

But look, so far in this world, we’ve come all this way, and I tell people it’s almost God-sent. It’s a miracle. What’s crazy is it seems disturbing, all of the different things we look at on social media—whether it’s racism or biases or bigotry—but it’s like, we’re now at the crossroads because you can’t hide anything anymore. The internet and Facebook and social media now tell the story. These things were hidden forever, right?

Live For Live Music: Exactly. Word travels much faster in today’s world. Some of these historical details were separated and segmented and obscured for so long, but now they’re at everyone’s fingertips.

Robert Randolph: What’s weird about the story of Juneteenth is that that’s pretty much as far back as anybody’s Black history in this country goes. Everything else before, there is no story. My grandmother and them, even my parents, they have no knowledge of anything about the history of [our ancestors in] Africa, just because… we’re Randolphs—we come from the Randolph plantation, and that’s it.

I got Italian and Irish neighbors and friends and all that, and they’re like, “Oh man, let me tell you, I went back to Italy and I… My great, great, great, great grandparents was so-and-so.” You know, we don’t have nothing of that. We go as far back as Juneteenth.

There is no such thing as your great, great, great grandparents if you’re Black in this country. You know they were slaves, you know the horror stories. I knew my great-grandmother, she was born in 1889 and she died in 1991, right, so we knew her growing up. But if you asked my grandmother about her grandmother, there’s no such thing to her but a story her mother told her. Before then, you were a slave. So there’s no, like, family history.

My great grandmother, if you asked her about her sisters, everybody scattered. You left the plantation and you decided, “I’m going east, I’m going west.” There’s no TV, there’s no internet. There’s no, “Well, I’m going to go to California because I hear they got beaches out there,” you know? [laughs] There is no knowing. You were a slave, you just stayed within that radius.

So, Juneteenth gives us this opportunity to really be able to tell these stories. And through all the hardship and the pain and the struggles, all of these success stories have happened in history too, right? I’m sure you watched the Juneteenth Unityfest and there was so much information you didn’t know.

Live For Live Music: Absolutely.

Robert Randolph: Including myself, I didn’t know a lot of that stuff. That’s from the coalition of community partners that we formed and all the different museums and artists. And all of the artists you saw there, those were all the people that really wanted to be a part of it. Nile Rodgers [who played at Juneteenth Unityfest] himself has his own crazy family history.

Live For Live Music: When the inaugural Juneteenth Unityfest was planned, we were still in the era of the pandemic, of virtual events. In the time since, Juneteenth has been officially recognized as a national holiday and actual in-person concerts have once again become the norm. How will your mission change moving forward with subsequent years?

Robert Randolph: Next year we’ll be live, and from many different locations. And the theme of the day is “everybody celebrate,” because now it’s a holiday, so everybody’s coming together on that day to celebrate all of this history, this culture.

Live For Live Music: Now that it’s no longer a fight to just get the day and its significance recognized, you can build it up, make it bigger, more special, make it encompass more.

Robert Randolph: Yeah, that’s the plan. We’re already sort of laying it out, we’ve got a map of where we’re hosting all these live events and what we’re doing. So it’s going to be just a great day all around the world [going forward].

When you look at any holiday, no matter what the holiday is, that’s how you wind up learning the most about that culture, right? [I’ll see my neighbor] celebrating a Jewish holiday and I’m like, “So, tell me about why y’all are celebrating this day.” And that’s how you learn.

Live For Live Music: Teaching the younger generations is one of the main tenets of the Robert Randolph Foundation and your new initiative, the Create Your Future Program, which will aim to support underprivileged youth in exploring high-demand, high-salary, technology-based career paths through simulated work environments. Can you tell us about that?

Robert Randolph: We’re launching it in Newark and most likely Brooklyn and the Bronx, too, and we basically wanted to create accessibility for all youth to be able to gain knowledge and skills that could help them transform their lives regardless of background.

Our neighborhood that we grew up in in Newark, we have three technology schools, which is great, but you tally that up and it’s like 1,100 kids out of 15,000 kids every year that get access to technology like that. Probably all those kids have iPhones and all these things. Meanwhile, you go to India, you go to other places, you got kids learning how to build computers already at the age of 10. So as we’re moving into the future, we want to equip these kids to be able to do that.

We’ve also implemented a major film and TV curriculum into that. We partnered with the Newark Film Festival‘s existing program [to help take people from the] community and train them up to be able to work in film and TV. You look at all of these documentaries now, and the power of streaming, and Netflix, and there’s a big void [of trained workers]. So the fact that we get to launch that and really scale it and have thousands of kids all around the country have access to that is huge.


Robert Randolph Foundation’s Inaugural Juneteenth Unityfest Brings Music’s Biggest Names Together For a Groundbreaking Celebration of Music and Culture

Robert Randolph Foundation’s Inaugural Juneteenth Unityfest Brings Music’s Biggest Names Together For a Groundbreaking Celebration of Music and Culture

On Saturday, June 19, the inaugural Juneteenth Unityfest presented by the Robert Randolph Foundation brought together a star-studded lineup of artists, influencers, activists and sponsors for a virtual festival.

During the five-plus hour program, the live stream was seen by over 1.1 million viewers on several platforms including LiveXLive, Ebony.com and YouTube. Taking place just two days after Juneteenth was signed into law as a federal holiday, this year’s celebration was especially joyous and served as a tribute to the breadth and depth of Black culture and Juneteenth as a uniquely American experience. The entire festival is available now via the official website and YouTube until Monday, July 19.

To view the program please visit: Robert Randolph Foundation YouTube Channel, LiveXLive or www.juneteenthunityfest.com.

“I saw Juneteenth as a day to come together as Black Americans first, and as Americans – to talk about our history, our struggles, and what we have accomplished. We are beyond grateful to all the artists, celebrities, grassroots organizations, and sponsors who helped us create a space to celebrate and reflect on what it means to be Black in America. Most importantly, Juneteenth Unityfest provided an essential platform to unite a coalition of charitable grassroots organizations bringing together diverse voices in commemoration. The Robert Randolph Foundation is committed to continuing to unite and amplify the efforts of these amazing grassroots organizations so that they can continue making progress in our communities. We are excited for Juneteenth Unityfest 2022, where we will be live across the country celebrating. In the meantime, I encourage you to watch this year’s Juneteenth Unityfest here,” said Robert Randolph, founder of the Robert Randolph Foundation and Festival founder and chairman.

The celebration kicked off with a stirring recording of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” from his historic 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival appearance. Symbolic of the cultural shift in the mindset of the nation at the time, the performance was a perfect introduction to reflect the power and influence of Black voices and how they have impacted the course of American history.

Following the recording, the live performances kicked off with Nile Rodgers & CHIC who brought the energy with the timeless hit single, “Good Times.” Festival founder and chairman, Robert Randolph then welcomed viewers before turning the program over to host: actress and author Amanda Seales.

One of the highlights of the night were the remarks made by Ms. Opal Lee who attended a Juneteenth Unityfest watch party with community partner and sponsor, Heal America. Lauded as the ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth,’ the 94-year-old activist’s commentary embodied the enthusiasm, determination, and relentless perseverance she exhibited to preserve the significance of Juneteenth. Having stood in the White House just days prior, witnessing her life’s work come to fruition, the weight of her words were incredibly emotional and provided a moment of reflection on how far the nation has come, and a reminder of the work there is left to be done.

“I am heartened by the millions of Americans who observed Juneteenth, many for the first time,” said Dr. DeForest Soaries, co-chair of Heal America, a movement to fight racial injustice with love and redemption, which sponsored Juneteenth Unityfest. “We hope the enthusiasm surrounding this year’s Juneteenth Unityfest marks the beginning of the healing that is to come. This is a sign to all of us that through a day of remembrance, commemoration, and celebration, we can continue to make meaningful progress in this country toward liberty and equality for all.”

There was no shortage of talent as the night blazed on with outstanding performances by: India Arie, Ledisi, Darius Rucker, Judith Hill, The Soul Rebels, Earth, Wind & Fire, Bebe Winans, Aloe Blacc, Keb’ Mo’, Black Pumas, Khruangbin, Jimmie Allen, Phony PPL, Shelea, Korean Soul, Michael Franti, and Dave Matthews & Carter Beauford.

Later in the show, Amanda turned hosting duties over to comedian, JB Smoove, who provided his unique brand of humor into the production. Celebrity spotlights highlighted the significance of Juneteenth in between performances, with appearances by: Van Jones, Jesse Williams, LeVar Burton, Billy Porter, Wilson Cruz, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Zach Galifinakis, Wayne Brady, Aisha Tyler, Jon Hamm, and Roger Guenveur Smith. Lynn Nottage, Holly Robinson Peete, and Djimon Hounsou also made appearances, sharing personal anecdotes about what the holiday means to them.

Highlights from the event included:

  • Phylicia Rashad from the landmark Stevenson Ranch
  • Lucky Daye performed, presented by Crown Royal Regal Apple
  • We Are Family Foundation (WAFF) spoken word performances
  • Achievement and Challenges of being Black in Sports with Washington Football Team President Jason Wright, Olympic great Gail Devers, and Tennis Icon Zina Garrison
  • Cultural moments with Craig Robinson on “Code Switching” and its relevance and necessity

The landmark event closed with final remarks by Robert Randolph, followed by another recording of Jimi Hendrix, performing “Purple Haze” at the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival, which brought the event full circle. Finally, Nile Rodgers & CHIC played the festival out with a performance of “We Are Family,” summing up the sentiment of unity felt by performers and viewers alike.

Juneteenth Unityfest was made possible by phenomenal sponsors and partners like Heal America, a movement to fight racial injustice, EBONY as the official media partner and LiveXLive as the official streaming partner. Additional sponsors included: Amazon, Crown Royal Regal Apple, the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative, and P&G’s Widen The Screen initiative. Getty Images and OWN also provided special content. You can view all images from Juneteenth Unityfest courtesy of Getty Images here.

A significant portion of the content and context for the festival came from the 35+ community partners who shared their stories about their contributions to the culture. Participating organizations included: AARP, African American Museum in Philadelphia, Benedict College, Heal America, Urban Specialists, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI), Hip Hop Caucus, HOLA, Invisible Warriors, Jobs For The Future (JFF), The Links Incorporated, Mile High United Way, Muhammad Ali Center, The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Umoja Events Juneteenth NYC Festival, Unity Unlimited, Inc., Usher’s New Look, and We Are Family Foundation.

Juneteenth Unityfest was produced by Empire Entertainment in collaboration with Red Light Management with creative direction and head writing by Paul Oakley Stovall.

For more information on Juneteenth Unityfest, presented by the Robert Randolph Foundation, visit www.juneteenthunityfest.com or follow on social media, including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

About Juneteenth Unityfest
Founded in 2021, Juneteenth Unityfest is an annual event presented by the Robert Randolph Foundation, a (501)(c)(3) organization that strives to bring together diverse voices in commemoration and celebration of Juneteenth and Black culture, both significant contributors to the vibrancy of American history and culture. Juneteenth Unityfest also serves as a national platform for a coalition of charitable and grassroots organizations to amplify their missions and bolster support for their work in advancing national unity.

About the Robert Randolph Foundation
The Robert Randolph Foundation is the brainchild of celebrated African American artist Robert Randolph. As a man with a long history of community involvement, Robert has remained passionately committed to programs and initiatives focused on family support and development. This passion inspired him to create this foundation as a skill development platform for youth from all walks of life to gain knowledge that can transform their lives regardless of their cultural, social, or racial backgrounds. Through the power of community, education, music, and arts, the Robert Randolph Foundation is creating better possibilities for brighter futures. www.robertrandolphfoundation.org

About Empire Entertainment
Empire is one of the world’s leading event, broadcast and virtual production companies. Headquartered in New York and Tokyo, with offices in Los Angeles and Hong Kong. In its three decades, Empire has worked in over 100 countries and produced such events as the Time 100, Tribeca Film Festival, The Ebony Power 100, Alicia Keys’ Black Ball, Oprah Winfrey’s Legends, O Magazine’s 10th Anniversary, The New York Times Food Festival, The Webby Awards, Harper’s Bazaar Icons and The Skoll World Forum. www.empireentertainment.com

Now in its 75th year, EBONY continues to be the leading authority for all facets of Black life – staying rooted as an anchor of Black culture. Under new ownership and leadership, the rebirth of EBONY signals the evolution of the beloved publication as a 21st century digital media brand with a focus on creating exceptional content and experiences illuminating the Black perspective.

About LiveXLive Media, Inc.
Headquartered in Los Angeles, California, LiveXLive Media, Inc. (NASDAQ:LIVX) (the “Company”) (pronounced Live “by” Live) is a leading global all-in-one streaming artist-first platform delivering premium music and entertainment content and livestreams from the world’s top artists, expertly curated streaming radio stations, podcasts, and original video and audio on-demand content, as well as personalized merchandise, connecting artists to millions of fans every day. The Company has streamed over 1,800 artists since January 2020 and has created a valuable connection between bands, fans and brands by building long-term franchises in audio, video, podcasting, pay-per-view (PPV), live streaming, and specialty merchandise. LiveXLive is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire, and through OTT, STIRR, Sling, and XUMO, in addition to its own app, online website and social channels. The Company’s wholly owned subsidiary PodcastOne, generates more than 2.25 billion downloads per year with 400+ episodes distributed per week across a stable of hundreds of top podcasts. The Company’s other major wholly owned subsidiaries are LiveXLive, Slacker Radio, React Presents and Custom Personalization Solutions. For more information, visit www.livexlive.com and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter at @livexlive.

About Heal America
Heal America is a movement to fight racial injustice with love and redemption. Grown from a series of local events hosted by Urban Specialists in partnership with Stand Together, Heal America brings tools, resources, and solutions to local changemakers who dedicate their lives to eliminating injustice. With the passing of Heal America’s founder Bishop Omar Jahwar in March 2021, Urban Specialists, Stand Together, and thousands of advocates committed to carry forth his vision and be relentless in our pursuit of solutions to racial injustice. Visit www.healamericamovement.org and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @joinhealamerica.

About Amazon
Amazon is guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking. Amazon strives to be Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company, Earth’s Best Employer, and Earth’s Safest Place to Work. Customer reviews, 1-Click shopping, personalized recommendations, Prime, Fulfillment by Amazon, AWS, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kindle, Career Choice, Fire tablets, Fire TV, Amazon Echo, Alexa, Just Walk Out technology, Amazon Studios, and The Climate Pledge are some of the things pioneered by Amazon.

About Crown Royal
Crown Royal Canadian Whisky is the number-one selling Canadian whisky brand in the world and has a tradition as long and distinctive as its taste. Specially blended to commemorate a grand tour of Canada made by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain in 1939, Crown Royal’s smooth, elegant flavor and gift-worthy presentation reflect its regal origins – it is considered the epitome of Canadian whisky.

Crown Royal Regal Apple has a vision to empower and enable the next generation of artists, creatives and athletes and is doing so by creating experiences that help to push culture forward in a fresh new way, while giving back to local communities.

For more information, visit www.crownroyal.com. Crown Royal encourages all consumers to please enjoy responsibly.

About Diageo
Diageo is a global leader in beverage alcohol with an outstanding collection of brands including Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, Bulleit and Buchanan’s whiskies, Smirnoff, Cîroc and Ketel One vodkas, Captain Morgan, Baileys, Don Julio, Tanqueray and Guinness.

Diageo is listed on both the New York Stock Exchange (DEO) and the London Stock Exchange (DGE) and our products are sold in more than 180 countries around the world. For more information about Diageo, our people, our brands, and performance, visit us at www.diageo.com. Visit Diageo’s global responsible drinking resource, www.DRINKiQ.com, for information, initiatives and ways to share best practice.

Follow us on Twitter for news and information about Diageo North America: @Diageo_NA.

About Getty Images
Getty Images is one of the most trusted and esteemed sources of visual content in the world, with over 435 million assets including photos, videos, and music, available through its industry-leading sites www.gettyimages.com and www.istock.com. The Getty Images website serves creative, business and media customers in nearly every country in the world and is the first-place people turn to discover, purchase and share powerful visual content from the world’s best photographers and videographers. Getty Images works with over 360,000 contributors and hundreds of image partners to provide comprehensive coverage of more than 160,000 news, sport and entertainment events each year, impactful creative imagery to communicate any commercial concept and the world’s deepest digital archive of historic photography.

About the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative
The NFL’s Inspire Change initiative represents the collaborative efforts of players, teams, and the League to acknowledge the ways systemic racism contributes to barriers to opportunity and equality. The work encompasses programs and initiatives in four key areas: education and economic advancement, community and police relations, and the criminal justice system. #InspireChange

About P&G’s Widen The Screen initiative
Widen The Screen is an expansive content creation, talent development, and partnership platform that celebrates creativity and enables Black creators to share the full richness of the Black experience. Only when we Widen The Screen to Widen Our View can we all broaden the spectrum of the images we see, the voices we hear, the stories we tell, and the people we understand. Visit https://us.pg.com/widen-the-screen for more information.


Robert Randolph, Nile Rodgers, and More Kick off Inaugural Juneteenth Unityfest: “We Finally Have Our Own Day”

Robert Randolph, Nile Rodgers and More Kick Off Inaugural Juneteenth Unityfest: ‘We Finally Have Our Own Day’

The Robert Randolph Foundation’s inaugural Juneteenth Unityfest will feature performances by Earth, Wind & Fire, Nile Rodgers, Ledisi, India.Arie, Dave Matthews and Randolph himself…

On Saturday (June 19) the Robert Randolph Foundation will premiere its inaugural Juneteenth Unityfest. Hosted by comedian JB Smoove and actress-author Amanda Seales, the festival will feature performances by Earth, Wind & Fire, Nile Rodgers, Ledisi, India.Arie, Dave Matthews and Randolph himself.

African-Americans have long celebrated Juneteenth — aka Black Independence Day — to commemorate the end of slavery 156 years ago on June 19, 1865. But this year the observance will become a double celebration in the wake of President Biden making Juneteenth a federal holiday on June 17.

Juneteenth Unityfest’s jam-packed lineup also includes Darius Rucker, Jimmie Allen, Black Pumas, Aloe Blacc and Bebe Winans. In addition to two Jimi Hendrix performances from the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival, there will be guest appearances by Phylicia Rashad, Billy Porter and Craig Robinson. Presented virtually this year, the festival will be livestreamed via the official Juneteenth Unityfest website and the Robert Randolph Foundation official website beginning at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT on June 19.

“What inspired me to host Juneteenth Unityfest was the opportunity to bring everybody together and talk about the past and a path to a brighter future,” says Randolph. “I’m so excited that we finally have our own day.”

While speaking on the importance of Juneteenth, which he calls “Black America Day,” Rodgers notes that his great-great- grandmother’s mom was among those emancipated on June 19. “We are culturally very important to this country,” he says, “given the richness that we’ve contributed to this nation.”

Over the years, Rodgers says he has felt “cheated,” because much of Black history and culture have been excluded from American history. “There are so many things that should be a part of history that we should all know. If we changed the curriculum, uplifting us would be the positive [return].”

Teasing that his performance will be “funky and fun,” Rodgers and his We Are Family Foundation will also host a UnityFest after party. “We’re proud of the fact that we’ve come out of slavery, persevered and have done well,” he adds. “We survived.”

Juneteenth Unityfest is presented in collaboration with Heal America, Ebony magazine and LiveXLive.


Juneteenth Unityfest Performer Eric Burton of Black Pumas Talks The Legacy of Soul Music

Juneteenth Unityfest Performer Eric Burton of Black Pumas Talks The Legacy of Soul Music

Over the last few years Austin, Texas has been overflowing with powerful music and live shows.

At the crest of this new wave in creativity, stand Black Pumas, featuring frontman Eric Burton and guitarist Adiran Quesada. The Grammy-nominated group’s music jumps out at us.

Here, EBONY chops it up with Burton about the legacy of Black soul music in its modern refresh, and the group’s amazing cover of Tracy Chapman’s iconic Fast Car.

Check them out at Ebony.com as one of the headliners of Juneteenth Unityfest.


Nile Rodgers and Robert Randolph Talk About Their Juneteenth Concert, Unityfest

Nile Rodgers and Robert Randolph Talk About Their Juneteenth Concert, Unityfest

Nile Rodgers is a co-founder of the legendary disco band Chic, and a member (and current chairman) of the Songwriters Hall of Fame thanks to his wide-ranging catalog of hits for David Bowie, Diana Ross, and others. Robert Randolph is an outrageously talented pedal steel guitarist who’s recorded six acclaimed albums with Robert Randolph & the Family Band, and was named one of Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists of all time in 2003.

The two guitarists only met earlier this year, but there’s already a warm rapport between them as they discuss Juneteenth Unityfest, Randolph’s brainchild that will be streamed globally this Saturday, marks the emancipation of Black Americans who were enslaved until June 19th, 1865. Chic and Randolph are among the performers, along with Earth, Wind & Fire, Aloe Blacc, Keb Mo, Darius Rucker, Dave Matthews & Carter Beauford, Black Pumas, and many more, streaming from different locations across the U.S. The evening’s program will also include an airing of Jimi Hendrix’s historic 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival appearance, and featured speakers ranging from Billy Porter and Zach Galifianakis to Phylicia Rashad and Craig Robinson.

The duo, in New York for festival rehearsals, spoke with GQ on Monday via Zoom; Rodgers was surrounded by framed copies of some of his many hit records, and Randolph had a guitar by his side. We discussed music, their family histories, and the prospect of Juneteenth eventually becoming an official national holiday, none of us anticipating how soon it would be: on Tuesday night the United States Senate unanimously passed a bill making it a legal public holiday.

GQ: This is billed as the inaugural Juneteenth Unityfest, so I take it you’re planning to make this annual?

Robert Randolph: Yes, we’re going to do it annually. Next year and every year after that, pending another pandemic, which we hope to never see. But yes, this is the inaugural year that we’ve brought together so many different people that are a part of black culture: grassroots organizations, musicians, athletes, actors, actresses, civic leaders, youth, to all celebrate the historical context of where did we go after Juneteenth, and where are we going from here? And to talk about all of the different things that we have faced and overcome as Black Americans.”

Had you guys worked together before this?

Nile Rodgers: It’s funny that we met a couple of months ago, but it feels like we’ve known each other forever. Robert doesn’t know this, but I stepped in on a rehearsal that he was doing years ago, Eric Clapton’s gig at Madison Square Garden. I heard your [mimes playing guitar], I was like, ‘Oh well, I’m done, don’t need me here anymore!’ But we didn’t get a chance to talk because I was just sort of in and out.

But I have to tell you, since Robert and I hooked up, it’s been nothing but love. I appreciate the effort that he’s been making to put this together, which is just tremendous. In my family, we talked about Juneteenth in a very different way. We didn’t call it Juneteenth, we called it Emancipation Day, because my great-great-grandmother was still alive and actually worked as a musician until she was like 104 years old. So she talked about back in the day and her mother being a slave. Originally they were slaves down in Georgia and they made it up to Philadelphia, they were sold and she was owned by an Irish man in Philadelphia. And after Emancipation Day, she left and moved to the state of New Jersey, my mother was born in Jersey City.

But they always talked about Emancipation Day as a real thing, something in my family that they had knowledge of, and they spoke about it in a very sort of emotional but entertaining kind of way. So as a young kid, I would hear it directly from my great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother, and my grandmother and my mom. It was almost like a sitcom because my family loves to crack jokes. Not that slavery was funny, but she would make it very entertaining for us, and that’s the other thing that I find really brilliant about what Robert’s doing, by mixing entertainment with messaging, it becomes didactic and entertaining, you can actually capture the audience.

So by mixing music and comedy and storytelling and things like that, you just have a very robust program that’s interesting for as long as we go. And then my organization, We Are Family Foundation, we’re hosting the afterparty, so we’re never gonna let you go. After it’s over, it’s still not over, and you’ll hear stories from our kids called frontliners who are now community organizers on the frontline of the struggle now.

Nile, you always talk about the Deep Hidden Meaning in your music, that there’s always something beneath the entertainment value. So Robert, when you curated the festival, did you tell the artists what kind of music to play or just tell them to do what they do?

Robert Randolph: It’s funny you said that, because we kept going, “Oh, we can’t have so-and-so be a part of this, because they’re on the other side.” And I would just always say on the call, “Are they Black?” This is the day that we’re putting aside which ‘side’ are you on, politics and left and right and all of that, this is a day to commemorate and to talk about all of Black culture. Everybody here comes from that, the end of slavery, all Black Americans come from that. They have a story that their family comes from, just like the story that Nile just explained, just like my last name is Randolph, we come from the Randolph plantation in Virginia, that’s just the way it is.

I never heard about Juneteenth in school growing up, but now my kids and hopefully more people of their generation will know. And it’s good to have something like this with “unity” in the name and the theme of bringing people together. There’s a right wing campaign now about “critical race theory” and saying it’s divisive to talk about this in schools. They want to tamp down the history instead of being open about it.

Robert Randolph: It’s just as simple as what Nile just explained. You cannot like Nile Rodgers and Robert Randolph without knowing their history and their story, and how they got here, and how his great-great-grandparents and how my great-great-grandparents all come from plantations, just like all of the 40-50 million Black Americans that are living here, this is who we are. I just saw a special on the whole ‘critical race theory’ thing yesterday, you just can’t hide it anymore. You just can’t hide stuff from the future, and the kids are gonna decide for themselves that they want to do something different, that’s just the way of the world.

So by having all of our youth really understand the history of where we are, it will create a brighter future, we already know that. If you don’t believe that, what inspired me was coming off of the tragic scene of watching George Floyd and watching as my grandmother said she’d never thought she’d see this day. When they were marching, it would be only some whites. Fast forward 50-60 years, there’s hundreds of millions of Black and white people together marching for a better world.

You know what’s crazy about this, I’m not trying to toot Nile’s horn and all that, but if you just listen to the songs Nile’s written and produced, they’ve all fallen into this inspiring category, he’s been pitching his message forever.

I was listening to one of my favorite Chic songs, “At Last I Am Free,” and I know it’s not really about freedom in that way, but then maybe it is. There are songs that you listen to and they feel like they could mean so many different things.

Nile Rodgers: True. You know, I come from a culture where I was socialized to care about people, so I was a youth activist, honestly, when I was 11, 12. By the time I was 16, I was a subsection leader in the Black Panther Party. So I lived a life where I was helping people as far back as I can remember, because my mom taught me to live by the Golden Rule.

So when I became a professional musician, to write songs about the world that I saw, I also had to be cognizant of the fact that there weren’t many lanes open to me. So it forced me to write from my heart and to be able to write in a sort of coded way, to use double entendre, to say one thing frontally but actually the real meaning was underneath, like a painting by Klimt. The soul was underneath the painting but the real painting was what people saw.

So a song like “At Last I Am Free,” even though that was based on a real life incident that was sort of funny and tragic at the same time, I like the fact that you could see it as an anthem about freedom. And I like the fact that when I met Nelson Mandela, he told me that one of the most revolutionary things that he ever heard was “We Are Family.” I was like, what are you talking about? I wrote “We Are Family” for Sister Sledge! And he said no, in South Africa, the prison guards played “We Are Family” on the white radio station, and he said the prison guards used to walk through the prison singing that they were gonna be a family with the Black girls. That was his interpretation, because he could hear that Sister Sledge were definitely Black, and the prison guards were jamming to it. And he said that that was so powerful to him, it made him feel like South Africa would not be under apartheid forever.

How did you get the Jimi Hendrix concert to be part of the show?

Robert Randolph: I really have no idea, that must have been God, because Jimi Hendrix don’t do nothin’ for less than a million dollars and we damn sure ain’t come up with none of that. I’ve done many of the Experience Hendrix performances and things like that, and I called Janie Hendrix, who’s Jimi’s younger sister. After two minutes of explaining, she just went, “OK yeah, just send me what you need, I have all these different performances, just tell me what you want.”

It’s great that you’re getting a whole spectrum of Black music in this.

Robert Randolph: You’re getting everything here, we’ve compiled everything, and most importantly, combined all of these grassroots organizations of people who are serving their communities in every aspect. We have so many, so next year it’ll be 10 times the size of that, because people kept calling—we don’t have any more room, we don’t have any space, all we can do is put you on a list! And that’s what we want it to be, we want everybody. Ms. Opal Lee is a part of this show and she’s been fighting for a number of years now for this to be a national holiday, so we all get to celebrate it together and have it officially be that.

Is everyone performing in the same place or are some performers on their own stages with the broadcast?

Robert Randolph: We’re all gonna be scattered. We actually had a permit for the National Mall, to do it there, but you got into August, September, November, whatever, after that, that whole thing just fell apart, nothing was happening anywhere in D.C. So we had to stick with this platform for now. We have different studios set up, me and Nile and friends will be in Brooklyn, there’ll be others in L.A., Texas, there’ll be folks in Nashville, so it’s kinda gonna give you that all over feel in a virtual setting with some amazing performances.

Nile Rodgers: We are doing some pieces that are actually produced but we also have live speaking. The whole concept is to inform and keep everybody entertained. The thing in the entertainment business that we all hate is what we call tune out. You’re doing your thing and then somebody says “Oh, let me go check something else out.” So we want to keep people tuned in as much as possible. We’re just loading you with information and loading you with entertainment.

And I guess Zach Galifianakis is the token white guy.

Robert Randolph: You gotta have one or two, right? [laughs]


Nile Rodgers, CHIC, Darius Rucker to Perform at Juneteenth Unityfest

Nile Rodgers, CHIC, Darius Rucker to Perform at Juneteenth Unityfest

The Robert Randolph Foundation will host Unityfest, a livestream concert event in celebration of Juneteenth, on June 19th at 5:00 p.m. ET via the festival’s website.

Hosted by Amanda Seales and JB Smoove, the inaugural festival will feature a set by Nile Rodgers and his group Chic, performing “funky music that projects a happy, hopeful spirit,” Rodgers tells Rolling Stone. Other performers on the lineup include Earth, Wind & Fire, India Arie, Darius Rucker, Black Pumas, Aloe Blacc, Dave Matthews with Carter Beauford, Khruangbin, Jimmie Allen, and more.

On Thursday, it was announced that Wilson Cruz, Roger Guenveur Smith, LeVar Burton, Ms. Opal Lee, Adesola Osakalumi, Baratunde Thurston, and Jesse Williams will appear during the program as special guests, alongside previously announced speakers Phylicia Rashad, Billy Porter, Jon Hamm, Van Jones, Wayne Brady, Aisha Tyler, Craig Robinson, Zach Galifianakis, Deesha Dyer, Gail Devers, Jason Wright, Krystal Mackie, and Zina Garrison.

In addition to the livestream performances, the event will also air two archival performances from Jimi Hendrix’s historic appearance at the 1970 Atlantic Pop Festival.

“With only a little over a week left before the festival, we could not be more excited to make this event come to life,” Robert Randolph said. “We are beyond grateful to all of the artists, guests, and sponsors who have helped us create a space to celebrate and reflect on what it means to be Black in America. Juneteenth is an important day in not just Black, but American history; it serves as a reminder to remember the past, acknowledge our progression and take collective action towards creating a better future.”

“Artists honor many historical events to help people feel them,” Rodgers added. “Emancipation Day was spoken about often in our family. In fact, my great-great-grandfather was named Abraham Lincoln Mickens.”

Randolph hopes to make Juneteenth Unityfest an annual event, with future festivals held live in different locations across the country.

“Juneteenth Unityfest post-pandemic plans will be to continue to work with Congress to finally make Juneteenth an official holiday, and help the hundreds of grassroots organizations amplify their great community work!” he says. “Get ready for next year’s 2022 Nationwide live events, when we are all excepted to be 100% back to normal and have the world celebrate us hand and hand!”


The Robert Randolph Foundation to Host Juneteenth UnityFest, a Nationwide Live-Stream Event Celebrating Black Culture

The Robert Randolph Foundation to Host Juneteenth UnityFest, a Nationwide Live-Stream Event Celebrating Black Culture

On Juneteenth of this year, the Robert Randolph Foundation will present a multi-city event that will serve as a platform for charitable grassroots organizations and diverse voices in the community to commemorate the breadth and depth of Black culture and its historical significance on this important day. The live-streamed event will take place on June 19th, from 5:00-9:00pm EST, and feature musical performances, inspiring speeches, films, comedy, storytelling, and appearances by civic leaders and influencers.

Expect musical performances by Earth, Wind & FireBebe WinansAloe BlaccBlack Pumas, Robert Randolph, and Nile Rodgers & CHIC, among many others. Actress and author Amanda Seales and comedian JB Smoove will serve as hosts for the program. Celebrities, such Phylicia Rashad, Billy Porter, Van Jones, Wayne Brady, Aisha Tyler, will appear live from across the country, streaming from various hubs of Black culture and creativity, including New York, New Orleans, Nashville and Los Angeles.

The brainchild of Grammy-nominated artist Robert Randolph, the purpose of the inaugural festival is to bring forth awareness of the significance of Juneteenth as a holiday and its significance in American history, by uniting people of all backgrounds while amplifying the many narratives of the Black experience in this country. “While Juneteenth, the holiday, marks the symbolic end of slavery in America, our goal is for Juneteenth Unityfest to represent the accomplishments of Black people in the United States,” says Randolph. “Through this celebration, our mission is for Juneteenth to serve as an occasion to remember the past, acknowledge our progression and take collective action towards creating a ‘more perfect union’ for all Americans.”

Adds Antong Lucky, co-chair of Heal America and president of Urban Specialists, “This is much more than a celebration—it’s an opportunity to educate and learn. It is a time to come together, heal, grow and embrace the bright future we will have if we focus on what unites us rather than what divides us. That’s what it means to heal America, and everyone has a role to play.”

Partners of the event include EBONYas the official media partner, and LiveXLiveas the official streaming partner. Through LiveXLive, the virtual fest will be accessible via STIRR, SLING, AppleTV, and through LiveXLive’s social media channels.

Juneteenth Unityfest is produced by Empire Entertainment in collaboration with Red Light Management with creative direction and head writing by Paul Oakley Stovall.