May 28, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Rapper Wale appears at Black Pride, apologizes

In an unexpected turn of events, rapper Wale appeared for a brief performance at Sunday’s D.C. Black Pride festival and apologized for an earlier decision to cancel his scheduled booking as the event’s lead entertainer.

The nationally recognized rapper and D.C. native told Black Pride organizers through a spokesperson May 28 that his decision to cancel his appearance for Sunday’s festival at the Washington Convention Center was due to a “miscommunication” on the part of one of his agents.

“The one thing I stand for is hip-hop music, and hip-hop music knows no race, no color, no age, no gender, no sexual orientation — none of that,” he told a cheering crowd after arriving on the festival stage.

“So the most important thing about it is the music, and it makes the people happy. That’s why we’re here.

“But I will say sometimes in this business you’re aligned with people who don’t understand that and don’t necessarily have the same beliefs as you do. And I apologize for not having my best foot forward … and I’m going to do better, as we all do.

“Every day we’ve got to do better. So I apologize on behalf of my team for not being the way they are supposed to be. Now with that said, can we have some fun right now?”

In response, people in the audience shouted, “Yea!”

Wale’s appearance was followed by J. Holiday, an R&B singer who was booked after Wale’s announcement that he had cancelled his appearance at Black Pride.

Holiday said he was pleased to be performing at the event and welcomed his fans from the LGBT community.

Earlier in the day, other local entertainers performed at the festival as several dozen local and national LGBT organizations and various commercial vendors interacted with attendees in booths set up in the convention center’s large exhibit hall, where the festival was held.

Among those attending the event was D.C. City Council Chairman Vincent Gray (D-At Large), who is challenging Mayor Adrian Fenty in the September Democratic primary. Fenty did not attend the event, but his Office of LGBT Affairs set up a festival booth.

Other officials to attend were Council members Kwame Brown (D-At Large), who is running for Gray’s Council chairman seat, and Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5). Council members Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), David Catania (I-At Large), and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) attended a separate reception May 28 kicking off Black Pride weekend.

Longtime participants in the event noted that attendance was down this year compared to previous Black Pride festivals.

Earl Fowlkes, a board member and spokesperson for Black Pride, said the drop in attendance might have been due to the economic downturn, which likely made it harder for people to attend from throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Out-of-town participants have long made up a large percentage of D.C. Black Pride’s crowds.

Fowlkes, who is president of the International Association of Black Prides, said the recent trend of holding Black Pride festivals in other cities, including Atlanta, also was a factor in the lower attendance at D.C.’s event. D.C. was the first U.S. city to hold a Black Pride celebration.

Wale had initially been billed as the lead entertainer at the 20th annual D.C. Black Pride Legacy Festival & Wellness Expo.

But Fowlkes said event organizers were startled last month when they received two e-mails from Wale’s agent, one saying the rapper had to cancel due to “family obligations,” and another saying he didn’t know Black Pride was a gay-related event when he agreed to appear.

According to Fowlkes, Black Pride organizers made it clear from the start that Black Pride is an LGBT event and most of the attendees would be LGBT people.

“Black Pride now believes that as a result of failed communications between the booking agent and the artist, Wale was booked for an event after notifying management that he would be taking a few weeks off to focus on family issues,” says a statement Black Pride organizers released May 28.

“D.C. Black Pride regrets that these communications (or lack thereof) resulted in the community perception that the artist did not appreciate nor want to perform for his gay and lesbian fans,” says the statement. “The principal agent responsible for the miscommunication has been terminated.”

Upon learning that Wale had cancelled his appearance at Black Pride, organizers arranged for Holiday to replace Wale as the headliner performer. Holiday took to Black Pride’s stage after Wale delivered his remarks to the crowd and performed two songs.

As planned after the mix-up surrounding Wale’s appearance, Holiday gave a full performance as the day’s lead entertainer, including some of his songs that rose to the top of the Billboard Top 100 Chart.

Wale became a nationally recognized rapper in 2006, when his song “Dig Dug (Shake It)” led to his record company contracts and appearances on MTV.

“It was very apparent that Wale was sincere about wanting to clear up any misconceptions that he was homophobic,” said Jimma Elliott-Stevens, a D.C. Black Pride board member and attorney who represented Black Pride in its negotiations with Wale’s representatives.

“This experience was very important for the LGBT community as it showed that we will not be invisible within and outside the black community,” said Fowlkes.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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