Jon Bon Jovi, a rock-and-roller as well known for his public works as for his music, was announced Wednesday as the 2014 recipient of Philadelphia's Marian Anderson Award.
Bon Jovi, 52, who lives in Middletown, N.J., joins such august company as Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Maya Angelou, Mia Farrow, James Earl Jones, and last year's winner, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr.
The latest choice has an especially strong local focus. As Nina Tinari, board chair of the award, said Wednesday in a statement, "This marks the first time that we have looked at generosity to the city and region as part of our search."
Tinari said by telephone that "this year we want to look at someone who is a great artist but also a great humanitarian, not only nationally but also locally. And Jon Bon Jovi is a perfect fit. This is his first recognition at this level in our region. He embodies what the award is all about."
During an announcement at the Sofitel Hotel in Center City, Mayor Nutter gave a resume of some of Bon Jovi's standout community work.
"The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation has succeeded in changing lives through its investment in health care, housing, and hunger support programs, as well as being an advocate for those in need," the mayor said. "He has supported a range of important organizations including Project HOME, Covenant House, and the Angel Network, the philanthropic organization of Marian Anderson Award recipient Oprah Winfrey."
Sister Mary Scullion, cofounder of Project HOME and a frequent coworker with Bon Jovi, spoke by phone of his work on behalf of those suffering from Hurricane Sandy and also in homeless relief in Camden. "He's not just a check-writer," she said Wednesday night. "He gets personally involved and stays involved. He is essentially a genuine human being who cares deeply about people."
For his part, Bon Jovi said it was "a great honor to be recognized by the great city of Philadelphia," according to a news release. "...Through the `power of WE,' we can end homelessness and hunger."
Born John Francis Bongiovi Jr. in 1962, Bon Jovi is best known as the leader of one of rock's most successful bands. Starting with his hit "Runaway," the group had a string of hit singles and albums in the 1980s and 1990s, reaching their apex with the smash albums Slippery When Wet (1986) and New Jersey (1988). The band's popularity resurged last year, when the album What About Now sold more than a million copies. The band has also enjoyed a very successful career as a touring act. Bon Jovi parlayed his good looks into movie and TV roles as well. He is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, is number 50 on Forbes magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the music business, and has sold more than 100 million albums.
Bon Jovi was also a co-founder and co-owner of the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League in 2004. While he was among the owners, the team won three division championships and also won ArenaBowl XXII in 2008, the high point of the Soul's history. The league folded the next year, and when both the league and the team returned in 2011, a new ownership group, headed by former Eagle Ron Jaworski, was at the helm.
In April, Project HOME opened a $16 million affordable housing project, built in partnership with the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation and a range of tax credits and private grants. Located at 15th Street and Fairmount Avenue, the JB Soul Homes house 55 formerly homeless and low-income residents.
The award Bon Jovi is receiving was begun by the famed Philadelphian for whom it is named. With a $10,000 award she had received, contralto Marian Anderson originally established a Marian Anderson Fellowship in 1943 to honor deserving young artists. First given that year, the award ran out of funds in 1976. It was reestablished in 1990, and reshaped in 1998 in its present form, as an award to an artist with noteworthy social and community service.
Today the award is $50,000.
The Marian Anderson Award dinner and concert is scheduled for Nov. 18 at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
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