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CNN Live Event/Special

Juneteenth, Celebrating Freedom And Legacy; Victor Blackwell Hosts CNN's Juneteenth Special. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired June 19, 2024 - 22:00   ET


RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: To come and celebrate a great man who, by the way, while he was playing, could not always enjoy everything that every other American could.


So, this has been a fantastic celebration so far, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Yes, it is remarkable to reflect on that. And, you know, because of them adding the stats, actually Willie Mays logged more hits in retirement, which is just, you know, amazing to --

YOUNG: Ten more hits, yes.

COLLINS: Ryan Young. I'm glad that the southern hospitality is in full effect, great to have you. Thank you so much, Ryan.

YOUNG: Always.

COLLINS: And thank you all so much for joining us. The CNN special event, Juneteenth, Celebrating Freedom and Legacy, starts right now.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Welcome to a CNN special event. Juneteenth, Celebrating Freedom and Legacy. I'm Victor Blackwell.

Behind me is the beautiful National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. This is the perfect setting for our celebration of Juneteenth, because like the museum, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery here in the United States. It's also a celebration of black culture and history. It tells our story of struggle, genius and beauty.

Tonight, we will bring you an exceptional lineup of iconic black musical artists. You will see their dynamic performances, and you'll hear their views on this holiday and its importance, our night of uplifting music, inspiring moments, and entertainment from some of the best who ever do it.


BLACKWELL (voice over): Tonight, a special CNN Juneteenth celebration.

SMOKEY ROBINSON, ARTIST: I think it's progress. I think it's for everybody.

BLACKWELL: Saluting freedom and honoring an important legacy.

JOHN LEGEND, ARTIST: This is part of my calling as an artist.

BLACKWELL: John Legend, Smokey Robinson, and the godmother of soul, Patti LaBelle. Juneteenth, Celebrating Freedom and Legacy, starts now.


BLACKWELL (on camera): This is the musical crossroads exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This is Little Richard's sequined jacket. That's Chuck Berry's Gibson guitar. Over here, this is Jimi Hendrix's purple embroidered vest. And how about this? Do you recognize this? This is parliament's mother ship, the P. Funk.

This exhibit showcases black music's role in popularizing calls for social change, the early jazz musicians breaking free of the racist tropes of vaudeville surrounding black music and the freedom singers of the 1960s.

John Legend is a music superstar continuing that long tradition. He's a celebrated singer/songwriter. He's earned Emmys, Grammys, an Oscar, and a Tony. He's also an activist and a philanthropist, focusing on criminal justice reform.


BLACKWELL: Did I read this right? You have a Juneteenth baby.

JOHN LEGEND: Yes, Ren. Yes, he was born on Juneteenth last year, so he is one today.

BLACKWELL: All right, happy birthday to Ren. Aside from planning birthday parties, how do you make space for this holiday in your family and celebrate that too?

JOHN LEGEND: Well, this is a festive day, I think for all black Americans and for anybody who believes that America is supposed to be the land of the free. We had that promise. Our founders wrote that as the ideal early on, but we weren't living up to that ideal for such a long time. And I think part of the story of America is hopefully the continued progress toward meeting that ideal where we truly are the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And I don't think we've accomplished that yet. It's something we have to continue to work on and be vigilant about.

BLACKWELL: How has becoming a father shaped your view of the world and the work that we have to do?

JOHN LEGEND: Well, I think a lot about all of the love and the resources and investment that we put into our kids. And we know how fortunate we are to be able to afford all the things that we want to be able to do to make sure our kids have a great childhood and are very well prepared for the future. Then I realized that a lot of parents don't have those resources. And I think about politics. And about government and about philanthropy as a way of filling in those gaps where parents don't have the resources themselves to do all the things that they need to do. But, hopefully, we as a society can come together to make sure that all children have opportunity, have the investment and the resources that they need to, to flourish in this life.

BLACKWELL: John, you could sing, release music, and then go home and not do the work. What compels you to engage and do the social justice work?

JOHN LEGEND: Well, part of it is I've always been inspired by the tradition of particularly black artists over the years, realizing that when we have this opportunity, when we have this platform, we want to use it to stand up for what's right, fight for justice, support activists and organizers who are out there doing really important work to secure freedom for all citizens.


I come from a tradition of that. I believe when I think about my mentors and my heroes, like Harry Belafonte and others, they invested in the civil rights movement. They spent their money. They spent their social capital and they use their platform to try to make the world better. And I always thought that was what an artist was supposed to do. So, I feel like this is part of my calling as an artist.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Some of your work focuses on ending mass incarceration, reducing recidivism through the Free America campaign. Are you seeing progress there?

JOHN LEGEND: Yes. We wanted to shine a light on this issue of mass incarceration in America. We started about ten years ago, and one of the seminal moments for our organization, and for me speaking out about this issue, was standing on the stage at the Oscars, saying we are the most incarcerated country in the world, and we need to do something about it. And if we want to think about the legacy of Dr. King and imagine what he might be working on now, I think this is one of the issues he would care about.

And so we set about actually doing the work to try to make a difference in ending mass incarceration. And through our efforts and the efforts of a bunch of other activists and organizers, we've actually reduced incarceration pretty significantly in the country, all around the country, local, state, federal, incarceration has gone down.

BLACKWELL: You talk about how this issue has impacted your own life and your own family. You talk about it on stage.

JOHN LEGEND: Yes, we talk about it. I talk about it on stage because I want people to know that I don't just come to these issues as an observer or as somebody from a 10,000 foot level. In my own family, we've had plenty of people who've been caught up in the system, people who've been incarcerated. We've dealt with my mom being incarcerated for a time when she was going through addiction issues. And so knowing that, knowing that it's personal to us and to our family, it makes it more real when I get involved in these policy discussions and I'm not just coming at it, you know, from a distance. I'm coming at it with real firsthand knowledge.

BLACKWELL: In order to talk about the mass incarceration in the U.S., we also need to talk about the school to prison pipeline and under resourced, underfunded, undersupported schools. You started the Show Me campaign. That's been more than 15 years now.

JOHN LEGEND: Yes. And, you know, we, we talk a lot about, especially now when we're thinking about mass incarceration, when we think about all the money, all the resources that go into locking people up and inflicting punishment on them, it costs us because not only does it cost us that money, it means we're not spending that money on something else.

And so I always try to illustrate how important it is for us to invest in our communities, invest the resources in education, in healthcare, in making sure our kids are fed, all those things that will help them grow up and to be contributing citizens, flourishing citizens in this country, and make sure they don't go down the wrong path. Let's invest in them early on so they don't go down the wrong path and we don't have to clean up our mess later on with incarceration and all those other punishment methods.

BLACKWELL: We're a few months out from the national election, and I've spoken with far too many people, and because of the work I do, most of them people of color. And they're just not enthused by either the major candidates, and they don't believe they're being spoken to and their issues are being taken up. What do you say to those people who just might sit it out?

JOHN LEGEND: Well, first of all, I want people to realize that elections are not just for president. They're not just national elections There's so much that is decided in elections and they're local, when you are voting for your school board, when you're voting for your mayor, when you're voting for your representative, both state and national, when you're voting for your governor, when you're voting for your district attorney. All these people have a role in your life.

And you may not be enthused about the top of the ticket, but all of these folks that are on the ticket, up and down the ticket, are going to affect the way your life is lived. They're going to affect your community. They're going to affect so many things. And so realize that you have the power to affect some outcomes that are going to be really felt by you and your neighbors. And so don't sit it out. It's important that you get involved.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk music and glory.


You all wrote that with Common. It's been almost ten years since it was released, winner of the Golden Globe and Academy Award.

JOHN LEGEND: Yes. BLACKWELL: Take me back to that moment, and writing it and what you were feeling thinking when you did.

JOHN LEGEND: Well, you know, I was called up by my friend, Common, and he was in the edit room with Ava DuVernay.

She was finishing the film, Selma. Selma, of course, was celebrating Dr. King's life and the work that all of his, organizers and folks who marched with him did to secure voting rights for everybody in this country.

So, it was focused on that. It was focused on this story of justice and equality and equal voting rights. And they wanted a song to end the film. And Common said, I was the first person he thought of, and was like, you know, let's do something together. We had worked together many times over the years. And he suggested a few song titles for me, and one of them was Glory. And I was like, I like glory.

And so I just started fooling around with the idea of glory. I was on the road in Europe. And I wrote the chorus for Glory, recorded it, and sent it back to Common. And he wrote the verses for the song.

Ava loved it, put it at the end of the film, and it really became such a powerful song during that moment. Because not only was it connecting with Dr. King's work, but it was connecting with the Black Lives Matter protesters who were marching in the streets at that moment and have continued to use our song over the years as a rallying cry to help inspire their protest.

BLACKWELL: How does that make you feel?

JOHN LEGEND: It makes me feel, well, grateful, and it makes me feel like -- it's kind of like a full circle moment, because we were inspired by them, we were inspired by the activists, and in turn, we wrote something that inspires them too.

BLACKWELL: You sing in Glory, and this is the reason I brought these notes. You sing, now the war is not over, victory is not won, and we'll fight to the finish. Then when it's all done, we'll cry glory. What does the finish look like?

JOHN LEGEND: Well, we'll probably never get there. That's the thing. And I think part of what the song is, it's aspirational, it's looking toward a goal, but knowing that you may never actually reach it, but realizing that the struggle is worth the struggle. And, you know, the finish looks like freedom for everybody, equality for everybody, belonging for everybody, flourishing for everybody, well being for everybody, and that's what we're working toward. And we'll probably never get there, but I think it's worth the struggle.


BLACKWELL: Here's John Legend performing his number one hit, All of Me.

[22:15:00] Ahead, more music from John Legend, plus, a performance from Smokey Robinson, and why one of the most famous tracks ever recorded on Motown was not a song at all.


ROBINSON: Dr. Martin Luther King came to Motown. He said, hey man, I want to do my I Have a Dream speech here.




BLACKWELL: Welcome back to CNN's celebration of Juneteenth at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. I'm at the Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom Exhibit. It showcases the pivotal moments of the civil rights movement. Behind me is a photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall where he delivered the I Have a Dream speech. And that famous speech was memorialized and shared with the world on records pressed by the black-owned label Motown Records.

I spoke with the legendary Motown artist, Smokey Robinson, about the day MLK came to Motown and a lot more.


BLACKWELL: Let's start with Juneteenth, it's only the fourth year that it's designated as a federal holiday.


BLACKWELL: But what does the designation mean that this is now a holiday for the country?

ROBINSON: I think that it means progress, man. It means that we've progressed to the point where everyone is willing to acknowledge the fact that we do have black people, and that they're significant, and I think it's progress.

BLACKWELL: Do you think it's just for black people?

ROBINSON: No, that's what I said. I think it's progress. I think it's for everybody. You know, everybody should acknowledge it and everyone should celebrate it.

BLACKWELL: I almost started that question as is it an African-American holiday, but I read somewhere that you don't prefer to be referred to as African-American, that you are a black American or American. Explain that. Why?

ROBINSON: Okay, man. I wrote a poem and it's called being a black American, okay? Now, in my life, in my career, I've been all over the world. I have never even been to Africa, okay? When they were offering me dates and stuff in Africa, it was during apartheid. And I wasn't going to go during apartheid and do that. There's a passage in the poem that I wrote. And it says, all the wonderful black Americans who served in all the wars, served in the armed forces and gave their lives in all the wars, they didn't do that for Timbuktu or Cape Town or Kenya. They did that for Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia and Louisiana and Texas and Virginia. Need I continue? And if you don't acknowledge that, if you don't claim that, you're playing right into the hands of the white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan, who claim that they own this land.

Now, that's why because we have cultivated it, we built, we've raised the kids, we've done everything that you could possibly do to contribute to a country, okay?


So, now for me to come along and say, okay, I'm an African-American, that's kind of denouncing my American citizenship. It's kind of announcing the fact that I'm an American. I'm proud to be an American. Like I said, I've been all over, this is the greatest country in the world to me, you know? So, I'm proud of that fact. And I want to be acknowledged as an American. That's why --

BLACKWELL: You talked about progress and black progress in this country. And often when we think about progress and especially the civil rights era, the music we hear and the music that's kind of a soundtrack is Motown.

Take me to the time when Dr. King came in and what he was doing was matching what Motown was doing and how the I Have a Dream speech came to be a Motown recorder.

ROBINSON: One of my proudest achievements or the proudest things in my life is Motown, man, is the fact that when we first started Motown, we were fledgling. We were just in Detroit and Ann Arbor and Flint, Michigan, okay? And there are areas in Detroit -- I grew up in Detroit. I was born there. There are areas in Detroit, whereas if you were black and you were in one of those areas, you better be working for somebody or you better have someone here that says you work for Ms. so and so and so, that's why you're in that neighborhood, if police caught you there, you know, you might get your butt whooped or be put out, whatever it was, you know, but there were areas in Detroit like that.

So, we had been in business for maybe a year and we were getting letters from the white kids in those areas. I regret the fact that we didn't think, because we were just young people making music doing what we loved, you know? And I regret the fact that nobody thought to save those letters. They would be invaluable at this point. We were getting letters from the white kids in those areas. Hey, man, we got your music. We love your music, but our parents don't know that we have it. Because if they knew that we had it, they might make us get rid of it. A year or so later, we're getting letters from the parents. Hey, man, we found out our kids were listen to your music and we listen to it. We're glad you make a music that our kids can listen to. That doesn't be invaluable, man. So, Dr. Martin Luther King came to Motown. He said, Hey, man, I want to do my, I Have a Dream speech here with you guys, because you're doing with music what I'm trying to do with legislation.

BLACKWELL: You know what I didn't know, until I started preparing to talk to you, was that there was another imprint. There was black forum, where there were the recordings of Langston Hughes and Elaine Brown and other speeches. I've never heard of that in the decades since that era. Talk about the importance for, not just you, but Barry Gordy and everyone at Motown to tell those stories and bring those voices to.

ROBINSON: I think it was very important, man, because it enlightened people as to -- people who didn't know about black people, or black culture, or black creativity, or black talents, or things. You mentioned Langston Hughes, you know. Fortunately, I grew up in the hood, in Detroit, man. So, the elementary school I went to, one of the first poets that we learned about was Langston Hughes. So, I think it's a great thing for people to know about all that, to know about the contributions that black people have made to this country and that puts a light on it.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about the dynasty of Motown, right? You are one of the, obviously, most well known artists at Motown, but then came Brandy and Neo and Erykah Badu, and now there's City Girls and Quavo. What do you think about some of the newer artists in the music you hear now?

ROBINSON: I think we've got some wonderful new artists in the music business. You see, I'm not one of those people who says, well, the kids are so -- the music is negative. And I'm -- it's progress. Every musical genre has its, has its era. So, we're in a new era now. We're in an era where these young people are the people who are attracting the most attention. But it goes on and on and on and on. And I think music is in good hands.

BLACKWELL: How long have you been touring?

ROBINSON: Oh, man. I did my first tour really professional date at the Apollo Theater in New York on the Ray Charles show. I was with the Miracles at the time in 1958, man.


ROBINSON: We were teenagers in 1958. And I'm getting ready to go now and play the Apollo again. They're going to shut the Apollo down for two or three years for renovation. And I will always play at the Apollo, man.

So, my group and I were going back to play at the Apollo because it's tradition.


The first time I ever walked into the Apollo in my life with the Miracles, there was a mural on the lobby wall, and everybody that I loved was up there. My number one singing idol at that point was Jackie Wilson. He's up there. Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong. I mean, just all the black acts that you could, from way back when.

Ella Fitzgerald started at the Apollo. She won the talent show at the Apollo. That's how she got started. So, the Apollo is black tradition, musically, and I will always play it. I don't care if they tear everything else on 123 down. I hope they keep the Apollo.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Let me bring it back to where we started here and about progress. What's next? What next in this country do we as black Americans have to fight for, accomplish, achieve? What do you think?

ROBINSON: Voting. That's one of the most important things we can do. And especially now, especially now, okay? Get out and vote. Don't let anybody stop you. You know, there are a lot of states where we have people who are in power who are trying to prevent that, trying to prevent the black vote because they know how powerful it is, you know?

So, my suggestion is get out and vote. Let's put some people in there that we want and that we trust, you know? Because I'm really squeamish right now.

BLACKWELL: Here's Smokey Robinson performing his Motown hit, "I Second That Emotion".




BLACKWELL (voice-over): The "Godmother of Soul", Patti LaBelle, ahead.





JENNIFER HUDSON, SINGER AND ACTRESS: Happy Juneteenth everybody. I hope you have the best time with your friends and family on this special day.


BLACKWELL: Artists like Jennifer Hudson know they walk a road paved by the greats. Like Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and of course, Patti LaBelle.


BLACKWELL: They're out of this world costumes like this one worn by Nona Hendricks, another member of LaBelle. the bold lyrics, the self- determination, they pushed the boundaries and broke the ceiling for black women artists.


BLACKWELL: Miss Patty, sitting here with you, I realized that I've had your music with me all my life. I hope that's okay to say.

PATTI LABELLE, ARTIST: You better say it. Are you serious?

BLACKWELL: When I was a kid, my mom would play the -- your albums on Saturdays, and I remember that "Nightbird" album and having that with me.

LABELLE: That was Sarah and Nona.

BLACKWELL: Yes, yes. So, tell me, when you see the new artists, the younger artists out, and you kind of think back to when you started in the early '60s, the progress that especially black women are experiencing in the industry, what do you feel, what do you think?

LABELLE: I think it's about time. They're killing the men, the young girls. You know, and the men are doing well, too, but I'm very happy for all of those girls because they're really doing their job well, and I appreciate it, and I know all of them. You know, so they're all like my little girls I teach because they always ask me questions about how it was back in the day.

BLACKWELL: You're known as the "Godmother of Soul".


BLACKWELL: What does that space, that title mean to you?

LABELLE: It's an honor to be the godmother and all. And a lot of young kids call me their auntie. I have a lot of children that call me mother or "motha". So, it's an honor to be called anything they decide, as long as you don't call me a bad name.


BLACKWELL: Yeah. So, when you tell these stories, and you think back to the early '60s, and you were touring with the Blue Bells, considering the social differences, the cultural differences, do you think of those times fondly still?

LABELLE: Oh, I have to, that's my life. That's how I started, you know, doing things when we were doing them, and not being honored, and not being treated well.

BLACKWELL: How did you continue to sing through it, to perform through it, even at some times when you weren't treated the best?

LABELLE: You sing, that's your job. And I'm going to sing no matter what, if you treat me well, if you treat me not so well, that's what I do. And I would continue through bad times, because we had to keep on moving on, and never stop, never let anything that somebody did to you that made you feel less than a penny bother your craft.

You know, there are some people who are watching who think of you first as Adele Wayne, and Dwayne Wayne's mother on "A Different World".

LABELLE: Wasn't that sweet?

BLACKWELL: You enjoy that?

LABELLE: Yes, I love that show, the "Prune Cobbler", and I was just happy to be asked to be Dwayne's mother, and I would do it again.


BLACKWELL: Yeah. Howard University says that while that show was on, enrollment at historically black colleges and universities surged.

LABELLE: Increased, yes. Isn't that wonderful?

BLACKWELL: It is. And for that show to be gone off the air now, you know, you can get it every now and then on, whatever, but it should still be on, because it did help a lot of kids say, okay, I'm going to go to college.

BLACKWELL: It's Pride Month, and you embraced your LGBTQ fans before there was an acronym, right? Before everybody reached out. Why, what led you to do that?

LABELLE: I never know why my gay following are attracted to me, because I always say I'm the original drag queen. And you know, back in the day when we're wearing the hair and doing all that crazy stuff, and if a lash came half on my cheek, I would give it to the audience. If a run was in my stockings, I would say, hey, you guys have a run. Like, I'm not afraid to be myself.

And I think a lot of gay people would like to come out of the closet. And a lot of my friends said, because of me, they came out, because I'm so open. I'm not afraid to make mistakes. I'm not afraid to be myself. And I love my gay following. I mean, I think they really made Patti LaBelle.



BLACKWELL: When you look at how our country has changed, some things have not changed over the time that you've been a performer. What is the work that still needs to be done?

LABELLE: There's a whole lot that needs to be done. People need to open their minds and realize when you see ugly and bad, and you say that it's not ugly or it's not bad, that just brings us back even more.

BLACKWELL: So, this is Juneteenth. It's a new holiday nationally. We're still trying to figure out how to celebrate this as a country. Is there anything special that you do on Juneteenth?

LABELLE: I party --


LABELLE: -- on Juneteenth, yes. I mean, it's reflection. We think about what we've been through and now how much better it is. And the kids, some kids don't even know about Juneteenth. And I want my grandkids to know that there was some stuff back in the day that wasn't so pleasant. And now we can celebrate Juneteenth. So, I talk to them about everything and they're going to learn our history.

BLACKWELL: How much do you tell them? Because it seems as if there's some things that maybe you don't want to talk about because they were difficult. Do you tell your grandchildren those stories?

LABELLE: I have to, I mean, because they have to know what we did back in the day, what we've been through way back in the day. Because if you don't tell them, they won't have a clue.

BLACKWELL: You have a very diverse audience. Yes. What is it about your music? What do you think it's about what you do on stage that brings so many people together?

LABELLE: I don't have a clue, but it makes me feel good because when I look in the audience, it's like a big pot of gumbo. All colors, all ages, all everything. It's just a melting pot of love for Patti LaBelle. It brings joy to my heart.

BLACKWELL: Well, you bring joy to our hearts. Thank you.

LABELLE: Thank you, honey. Thank you. I call you honey.

BLACKWELL: I'll take it.


BLACKWELL: Now, the "Godmother of Soul", Patti LaBelle, performing "The Right Kind of Lover".


LABELLE: All right, the "The Right Kind of Lover" is in the house. Come on.




BLACKWELL (voice-over): Coming up, another performance from John Legend.



BLACKWELL (voice-over): And the trailblazer whose tireless activism kept the dream of a Juneteenth national holiday alive with a journey that inspired generations.









BLACKWELL: That was Beyonce with the social justice anthem, "Freedom", a song about the ongoing fight for freedom. It evokes the centuries- old struggle told by the Slavery and Freedom Exhibit here at the museum. Now, this exhibit traces the brutal history of slavery and the constant fight for freedom.

At the center of this exhibit is a small, handheld copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed in 1863. It was not enforced in Texas until June 19th, 1865. That date is now known as Juneteenth. And some black folks have celebrated for a century. I had the honor of speaking with Ms. Opal Lee. She's known as the grandmother of Juneteenth for her tireless efforts to make this a federal holiday.


BLACKWELL: Happy Juneteenth.


BLACKWELL: How does that feel? This is the fourth year that it is a national holiday. How does it feel?

LEE: Well, I'm humbled by it. I really am. I tell people sometimes I want to do a holy dance, but the kids say I'm twerking, so I don't know what to do.

BLACKWELL: How does this feel now to look forward on Juneteenth and what it becomes from here?

DIONE SIMS, OPAL LEE'S GRANDMOTHER: I think that the future is bright because now with it being on the calendar, it gives us a chance to really talk about what it means to be free. And so, when you make Juneteenth not just about the past, but you bring it to the present and the future, I'm hopeful that now we can start healing and reconciling and dealing with issues that have been swept under the rug for so long.

LEE: And I don't want people to think that we've arrived and Juneteenth is for everybody, for not just a Texas thing and not just a black thing. It's freedom for all of us.

BLACKWELL: When did the dream of making it a national holiday begin?

LEE: Well, I'm saying if I walk the 1400 miles from Fort Worth to Washington, the fact that we've had Juneteenth for I don't know how many years. And there's a 4th of July, which freed the land. And I felt like Juneteenth would free the people. I also felt like if a little old lady in tennis shoes was walking, somebody would take notice.

BLACKWELL: Were you always certain that the holiday would come, that nationally it would be recognized?

LEE: No, but I felt like if you work at something and enough people noticed it, then -- and you got God in the plan, it's got to happen, come hell or high water.

BLACKWELL: In 2021, it happened.

LEE: It did.

BLACKWELL: Congress overwhelmingly voted to support it. President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act and handed that pen to you. And what did that feel like?

LEE: Oh, I was humbled.


I didn't know what to think. I was so proud and happy. That was another time I could have done the holy dance.

BLACKWELL: It's interesting that you say that you've not done any more than any other person would do. There are some people who watch this or look at the other icons of progress, freedom, civil rights and say, what can I do with my little community, my little space? What do you tell them?

LABELLE: I tell them, hey, you have so much going for you. Let it out. Let somebody else know. Share the things that will help us to be a better and stronger nation. So, when I get with people, they're not my age, they're always younger.

I suggest that maybe your little group of women at your church, talk to them or tell your husband some things that he can share with the men. And on the job, if we would only realize that we are one people, we are Americans, not African-Americans or Italian-Americans, we are Americans and we need to embrace that.


BLACKWELL: I hope that you've enjoyed this evening. We've watched incredible performances from iconic black artists. We've been enriched with words of wisdom from the grandmother of Juneteenth. Thank you for being with me tonight. Remember, this is a holiday for all Americans. And now, here's John Legend with a special performance of "Redemption Song"