LeBron James is donating $2.5 million to support a Muhammad Ali exhibit at the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., the basketball star and the museum announced on Thursday.
The Cleveland Cavaliers forward said he was a longtime fan of Ali, one of the most beloved sports figures in history, who died on June 3 after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s syndrome. “Every professional athlete, regardless of race and gender, owes a huge debt of gratitude to Muhammad Ali,” James said in a statement. “His legacy deserves to be studied and revered by every generation.”
The “Muhammad Ali: A Force for Change” exhibit features items from the late boxer, including a training robe worn at Dundee’s Fifth Street Gym in Miami. While the exhibit details Ali’s sports journey, it also highlights his community activism, spirituality and politics.
“We are extremely grateful to LeBron James,” said Damion Thomas, curator of the museum’s Sports Gallery. “As the most socially active superstar in sports today, LeBron James is a testament to the influence of Muhammad Ali (who) embodied the racial and social tumult of his times, blurring lines between politics and sports, activism and entertainment.”
James’ business partner, Maverick Carter, is also contributing to the exhibit, which has been on display since the museum opened on Sept. 24.
The funds will also support the museum itself, which is located on the National Mall.
The first song I heard from the Hamilton soundtrack was “My Shot.” This song, the third one in the first act, serves the important role of introducing the ten-dollar-founding-father-without-a-father Alexander Hamilton: his burning ambition, his sophisticated oratory, his commitment to revolution. But the verse that hit me the hardest, that immediately told me that something exceptional was going on with this show, was this one, sung by young abolitionist John Laurens (played by Anthony Ramos):
When you’re living on your knees, you rise up
Tell your brother that he’s gotta rise up
Tell your sister that she’s gotta rise up
This verse — in the show an exhortation to the 18th century colonists to revolt against the British government — is universal and timely enough to be a rallying cry for any recent social justice movement. As soon as I heard it, I knew Hamilton was trying to do something special. Without being didactic or preachy, Hamilton was telling people to stand up for their rights, take a seat at the table, and participate in America.
Much ink has been spilled about Hamilton: about its innovative hip-hop structure, its diverse cast, its best-selling cast album (including time at No.1 on the Billboard Rap charts), its unprecedented popularity on Broadway, its brilliant and social media-savvy creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, its eleven Tony awards. But despite its runaway popular success, and its seemingly universal appeal, Hamilton feels to me — and I suspect to many fans — deeply personal. As a mixed-race person, a lawyer who attended the same college as Hamilton, a federal government employee, and a life-long musical theatre nerd, the combination of the music, the lyrics, and the cast feels urgent and relevant.
For my teenage children, who follow the charismatic and thoughtful cast on Instagram and Snapchat, it has made American history feel applicable to their daily lives in a way their school classes never have. And when we were fortunate enough to see the show on Broadway, watching the diverse cast play the (white) American founders, and seeing how Miranda has also worked to make what has usually been understood as being primarily a story of men include the contributions of women, had an impact that cannot be overstated.
Hamilton shows the influence of American musical theatre traditions that range from Rodgers & Hammerstein to Sondheim to Disney. The show is most solidly rooted, however, in black musical traditions. Hamilton’s hip-hop and rap songs have garnered the most attention, but that only scratches the surface. “What’d I Miss” is a wonderful homage to Cab Calloway, with elements of ragtime and even funk.
“The Schuyler Sisters” echoes groups like Destiny’s Child, “Wait for It” starts with a dancehall reggae beat, and “Say No To This” is an R&B slow jam straight out of the 90s. In addition, most of the original main case is black, including Okieriete Onadowan (Mulligan/Madison), Tony nominee Chris Jackson (Washington), and Tony winners Leslie Odom, Jr. (Burr), Renee-Elise Goldsberry (Anjelica), and Daveed Diggs (Lafayette/Jefferson). Continue reading “RISE UP: Why “Hamilton: An American Musical” is Still a Must-See”→