When Cipriani’s cavernous 42nd Street digs are full of revelers clad in deep-pocketed tuxedo pants and evening gowns, there’s a good chance that a lot of money is about to be raised. Like, a lot a lot. On Tuesday, that number was $1.3 million, all going to cancer research via the T.J. Martell Foundation.
Flash bulbs burst as the singer Omar Apollo, all 6 ‘5’ of him, posed with Warner Records Co-Chairman and COO Tom Corson on the step and repeat near the entrance of what was once a former bank—the signs for tellers still remain.
Apollo and Corson looked like they’d make a happy couple from the Al Pacino School of Relationships, but in reality Apollo was here because Corson is the man who metaphorically towers over the singer’s career and happened to be receiving the Lifetime Music Industry Awards at the foundation’s Annual Gala—a long-running staple of the New York music industry’s calendar that draws a hodgepodge of the industry’s buzziest names. Later, Apollo would call Corson a ‘daddy,’ and if you’re not sure what that means, ask a gay friend.
But before everyone sits down, it was time to banter with a crowd that includes Warner CEO Aaron Bay-Schuck and Republic Records CEO Monte Lipman.
“It’s been a lot of work, but I’m very grateful,” Apollo said when I asked how he’s been, teasing that he’ll have new music before the end of the year. I wondered if Apollo is following through with a plan to move to Brooklyn, something he mentioned the last time we spoke. For a GRAMMY-nominated, presumable millionaire with the world at his fingertips, his answer is grim. “I was going to,” he says. “But I came out here and got discouraged after I looked at apartments. I’ll come back.” Discouraged about the housing market? He’s practically a New Yorker already.
Apollo performed later in the night, along with R&B singer Coco Jones, on hand to fete Def Jam Chief Creative Officer and executive VP Archie Davis.
Brandy Clark also performed to honor her collaborator Shane McAnally. Clark and McAnally, in case you didn’t know, are the forces behind the musical Shucked—which, if you haven’t seen the ad campaign, is the musical all about corn. McAnally received the Spirit of Music Award tonight, shortly after a whirlwind weekend that saw Shucked star, Alex Newell, take home the award for Best Featured Actor at the Tony Awards. McAnally was also nominated for Best Score alongside Clark, among a slew of other Tonys.
“It’s been a very emotional few days and months,” said McAnally, who’s also written many dozens of country hits for the likes of Kacey Musgraves (“Rainbow”) and Walker Hayes (“Fancy Like”), and regularly pledges to donate a portion of the proceeds of each to charity. “I get so nervous about saying the right thing or being here at all, but it’s all about cancer research and just being a part of it to help in any way. It feels a little funny that it comes in the form of me being honored.”
The ceremonial bequeathing involved many impassioned speeches by friends of the honorees, including Kristen Chenoweth. “When Shane told me he was gonna be coming up to New York to work on a show, I said, ‘Finally, I’ll have a friend who talks like me here,’” she said of fellow drawler McAnally. Meanwhile, the ever-mischievous Josh Groban, on hand to honor the aforementioned Corson, introduced himself by saying he’s a “two-time Emmy, four-time Grammy and two-time Tony award-losing artist.”
But aside from the jokes, the thruline of the evening was the ravages of cancer. The foundation takes its name, after all, from late music executive Tony Martell’s son, who died of leukemia in the 70s at age 21, and early iterations of the event featured the likes of Ella Fitzgerlad and Miles Davis. Tonight, revelers spoke of the impact cancer has had on all of their lives—Corson’s wife and child battled the disease, for example. There was also Black Panther and Creed director Ryan Coogler, there to honor Def Jam Chief Creative Officer and executive VP Archie Davis with the Rising Music Superstar Award. Coogler spoke with emotion of the late Chadwick Boseman, whose life was cut short by colon cancer in 2020, as well as Davis’ father, who died of the disease in 2021.
“I remember how Archie fought for his dad,” said Coogler. “It was admirable. Cancer steals time from us. One of the biggest blessings and also something that broke my heart—the year he lost his father he gained his son.”
When Davis accepted his award, he announced he was just informed of an update to Universal Music Group’s insurance he helped advocate for: men under the age of 30 are now fully covered for colon cancer screenings. It received the biggest applause of the night.