Solange Knowles attended the Town Hall’s inaugural Lena Horne Prize for Artists Creating Social Impact. Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo set the tone for the evenig with her speech: “I was the last girl in a family of 10 kids,” she started. “We, women, as mothers, we’re the future of the planet. I grew up seeing that women in a community are powerful. I’ve seen men walk into a house full of women and not say a word,” Kidjo said with a laugh.
Knowles’ mother, Tina Lawson, told Billboard that her youngest daughter has always been passionate about giving back to her community. “My favorite song is ‘Where Do We Go?’ because it talks about the gentrifying of the neighborhoods and it’s a true story,” she said. “She tried to go to her house and she couldn’t because it was blocked off and she wasn’t allowed to go there. And I’ve felt that so many times in my life, like, where’s our place? Where do we go and who’s gonna accept us as we are? As amazing as we are…” Lawson revealed that Solange, at just five years old, would serve dinner to the needy with her family post Sunday service. “Solange was on bread duty. We put her on a little stool to serve the rools.”
During the ceremony on Friday night, Tina Lawson shared a few stories about Solange while onstage. She talked about the time her daughter started a petition at her school to have a teacher relieved of her position. “It didn’t work. But that teacher deserved to be fired.” There was another time when she was asked to take down the Nas poster she’d hung inside her locker. The administration at her Christian school was not pleased that this African American man from Queens called himself “God’s son.” “They claimed that it was blashphemous. And SOlange told them that if she had to take her Nas poster down, then another student should have to take their Justin TImberlake poster down too, because Justin has a cross tattoo on his arm.”
Knowles was the first recipient of the award named after Lena Horne, an activisit herself. Horne’s daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, granddaughter, Jenny Lumet, and great grandson, Jake Cannavale, were all in attendance. Her granddaughter spoke of “sleeping in her [grandmother’s] laugh” and being terrified of her drawers filled with false lashes beliving them to be spiders. She told the audience that her grandmother was the type of person who would eat candy bars with a knife and fork but “drink her Hennessy from a Sesame Street mug.”
The room was filled with artists like Andra Day, Alice Smith, Leon Bridges, and Talib Kweli, celebrating both women and their effort to make change. BJ the Chicago explained the significance of standing in solidarity with women. “That’s always been necessary. It’s not just necessary today and in these times, but it always has been because without women there’s no men.”
Knowles gifted her $100,000 prize to the Houston-based non-profit, Project Row Houses, a foundation dedicated to “empowering and enriching communities through engagement, art, and direct action.” Knowles’ acceptance speech:
“I know that these speeches are meant to be aspirational, leaving you feeling warm and fuzzy and inspiring you to be yourself,” she continued. “But I’d like to have the space right now to be all of these things. I’m honored to be all the things that my mother and my dear friend Toyin [Oijih Odutola, a visual artist] have said, but I’m also in a moment of great transition and transformation and we all deserve the space to be all of those things — the space to love my people, to vow to continue fighting for us, for our peace, uplift us, make us seen and heard, celebrate our undeniable supreme light while trying really hard to find my own.”