It was something to see — and hear — Stevie Wonder and the Blind Boys of Alabama. It was the 34th Annual Vision Awards, Saturday night at the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton hotel. Stevie made the introductory remarks and the presentation of the Vision Award for Lifetime Achievement to the Blind Boys of Alabama. It was the final award of the evening. But it wasn’t the finale. The Blind Boys, six decades old–plus, accepted their award by performing one of their roof-shaking gospels. But–you ain’t heard anything yet. At the finale, Jimmy Carter invited Stevie Wonder back on stage to join them in song. They rocked the room. The black-tied guests stood throughout the number,clapping constantly in rhythm–well beyond the final notes. Guests remained standing and still applauding long after my co-host Sam Rubin and I thanked everyone for attending, and also giving a tribute to the unending and untiring work of RP International’s Helen Harris.
Stevie Wonder and the Blind Boys of Alabama weren’t the only stars and award winners of the evening. Early on, Matthew Modine welcomed Andy Garcia as Film Artist of Vision. Garcia noted he was no stranger to the Beverly Hilton. When he first arrived in Hollywood, seeking his fame and fortune, his first job was working in the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s ballroom. He greeted and waved to his “captain Guillermo.” Garcia paid tribute to the “integrity” of people in this town. “Those who have integrity — without celebrity.” He also reminded, “Just because you don’t have sight, does not mean that you do not have vision.” Robert Evans, who made the presentation to Bret Ratner as a Director of Vision, complimented the young filmmaker with the same enthusiasm of a Steven Spielberg. It wouldn’t surprise if Evans and Ratner team for a film when the latter winds editing on “Rush Hour 4” and Evans winds his book, “The Fat Lady Sang.” Backstage Evans also had a reunion with another Director of Vision winner, Wes Craven. The latter had been present when Evans suffered a stroke nine years ago–he’s long since recovered, we’re happy to note.
Among those participating in the program: Matthew Modine, C. Thomas Howell, Lou Diamond Phillips, Linda Blair, Tia Carrera, January Jones, Laura Prepon, Angela Sun, Gordon, Clapp, Melora Hardin, Nick Stahl, Jack Coleman, and the International Peace Choir. Among those receiving awards: Jimmy Ross, President of Lions Club International, Texas Instruments, Gene Frantz, Dr. Keith Black, Dr. Thomas S. Tooma, Kristina Narfstrom, relatives of passengers on United’s Flight 93, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, Gary Michael Walters, Thomas Newman, Lucy Walker and Todd Field, Helen Harris reminded all of the need for funds to support research while pointing out “Our School for the Blind and 24 hours Blindness Hotline were busier than ever as we are making a difference in more and more lives every year.” It was a sight to see as Stevie Wonder and Helen Harris embraced.