Grandmaster Flash, Lynn Swann get NEED's 50th Anniversary Gala jumpin'

Janera Solomon with Jeremy Resnick during  the NEED 50th Anniversary Gala at the August Wilson Center, October 19, 2013.
Janera Solomon with Jeremy Resnick during the NEED 50th Anniversary Gala at the August Wilson Center, October 19, 2013.
Photo by John Altdorfer
| Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

“I thought, if we're not going to get the top local DJ, let's go to the top of the mountain,” said event chair Janis Burley Wilson during the 50th Anniversary Gala for NEED.

Judging by the buzz at the August Wilson Center on Oct. 19, the impending arrival of legendary Grandmaster Flash was causing some serious reconsideration of any plans to pack it in early.

“I am on call tonight. I have to pick up my son at 10, so I have until 9:30 .... OK, maybe 9:40,” laughed Evan Frazier, who, along with Rabbi Harold Silver (also NEED's founding president), Dr. Herman Reid, Pete Mendes, Goldia Dargan Hodgdon, and Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, were being honored by a crowd of 200.

Even before the evening had officially begun, anticipation was running high as guests made their way to the center, which was brilliantly illuminated with 345 luscious green and purple lights. A design collaboration between Martin Potoczny and Sean Gray International with a floral assist from Bill Chisnell Productions, all signs pointed toward good times ahead for the likes of prexy Dr. Marcia Sturdivant, Dr. Dorothy Browne, Claudette and Dr. Harold Lewis, Mel andTiAnda Blount, Eustace Uku, Ian Rawson and emcee Harold Hayes.

Following a seated dinner from Rania's Catering, the party shifted gears for a program to highlight the key players committed to “Unlocking the Power of Education” since 1963; $23 million in scholarships for 20,000 black students, to be exact. It also included a memorial tribute to former prez Sylvester Pace, whose widow, Rhonda, and daughters, Stephanie and Rachel, were in attendance.

“NEED is what it is because we all have worked together,” said board chair Candi Castleberry-Singleton.

Business taken care of, the party slowly began to move back upstairs to where the Grandmaster was waiting. Fresh off a flight from New York City, he was, oddly enough, greeted by a room full of revelers who morphed into wallflowers that not even he could peel off.

And that's when Castleberry-Singleton, Sturdivant and Burley Wilson came along. Warming to the idea of cutting it loose, a few emboldened souls were finally enticed out onto the dance floor. But the real moment of truth came when Charena Swann managed to get her husband, Steelers Hall of Famer Lynn Swann, out on the dance floor. Once Swanny started showing off his moves, no one else could resist.

“There you go, Pittsburgh. There's some pep in your step,” the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame DJ said.

Kate Benz is the social columnist for Trib Total Media and can be reached at or 412-380-8515.

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