By Keith L. Alexander
For media mogul and entrepreneur Cathy Hughes, this year’s Mother’s Day was going to be difficult.
Last July, Hughes’s mother, Helen Jones Woods, 96, died from complications of Covid-19. For the 74-year-old Hughes, multi-millionaire and founder and chairperson of Urban One Inc., this year marks Hughes’s first Mother’s Day without her mother present.
And while many might consider those individuals able to spend more than seven decades with their mother as fortunate, Hughes said such longevity also created a startling realization. “The longer God blesses you with having your mother in your life, the more difficult it is to adjust to life without her,” she said.
It was during Hughes’s mourning, that she birthed an idea to not only celebrate her mother’s life with a national TV program, but to also celebrate and honor the lives of other African American women who -specifically during the pandemic – worked at protecting and spotlighting Black Americans.
On Sunday, May 16, 2012 at 9 p.m. (EST) Hughes’s cable TV networks, TV One and its sister network CLEO-TV, will air the network’s annual “Urban One Honors” celebration. The two-hour program this year will be a first; all honorees are African American women. The show is themed “Women Leading the Change.”
Hughes said the women honored left an indelible mark on the country last year, one of this nation’s darkest and most challenging periods in American history due to the deadly pandemic.
The show is co-hosted by Grammy-award winning singer and syndicated gospel radio show host Erica Campbell and award-wining journalist and news commentator Roland Martin. The recorded, virtual awards show will feature live performances by R&B saangers, Avery Sunshine and Jazmine Sullivan, gospel powerhouse Le’Andria Johnson and legendary rapper, Da Brat.
The program will honor six Black female leaders in business, politics, journalism and humanitarian efforts including Atlanta’s political powerhouse and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stacey Abrams and Rosaline “Roz” Brewer, chief executive officer of Walgreens Boots Alliance and the nation’s third Fortune 500 company ever led by a Black female executive. The program will also honor the four African American, Greek sororities; Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho, Inc. and Zeta Phi Beta, Inc.
The show will also pay tribute to Hughes’s mother, who before becoming a wife and mother, was a famed trombone player who played with an all-girl, integrated swing music band called the International Sweethearts of Rhythm in the 1930s and 1940’s. Hughes called her mother’s group, “the original Freedom Fighters” who traveled by bus through the South playing for audiences and even played clubs overseas. At one point, white and Hispanic band members had to wear dark makeup to look like their Black bandmates to avoid being stopped by police for promoting integration, Hughes recalled. The segment will be introduced by a longtime fan of the group, political activist, author and college professor Angela Davis.
Hughes’s excitement about the upcoming evening is electric. An hour before “Urban One Honors” airs, TV One will broadcast an exclusive, hour-long interview with legendary rapper DMX. The interview was recorded for the network’s weekly show “Uncensored” about three weeks before DMX’s sudden death April 9 at age 50. The show’s producers said DMX spoke, at times through tears, about his life, his music and his legacy. The producers said hearing DMX’s commentary just weeks before his death, is more sobering and haunting today.
After the celebration of one of the kings of rap music with “Uncensored,” the TV network will then celebrate its queens with the “Urban One Honors.”
“I think it’s going to be the biggest night in TV One’s history,” Hughes exclaimed.
Hughes, along with a group of Urban One executives chose the honorees because they wanted viewers, especially young girls, to see Black women who were not celebrated singers, dancers or actresses, but instead who were ideological firebrands, making differences in their communities and around the nation.