Fans of WFUV, Fordham’s listener-supported public radio station, packed Manhattan’s Gotham Hall on May 8 to pay tribute to four standouts whose distinctive talents have shaped the entertainment industry past and present. FUV’s seventh Annual Gala raised $375,000 for the award-winning station, with online-auction bidding remaining open until May 22.
Supporters came out to celebrate soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples; veteran sportscaster Verne Lundquist; Katherine Oliver, former commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting; and NPR host Scott Simon.
Accepting the Artist of the Year Award, Staples recalled her late father, Pops Staples, leader of their family group, the Staple Singers.
“I can just see Pops right now,” said Staples “He’d say, ‘Mavis, they chose you? A station in New York City? That’s huge, that’s big. And it’s for the whole year?’”
Getting serious, she said, “I’m just so grateful to be here—to still be here.” The 74-year-old’s six-decade career has earned her a Grammy Award and a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With the Staple Singers, she brought gospel-soul hits to the pop charts and protested alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.
“Mavis was the voice of that movement,” said Chicago Times music critic Greg Kot when he introduced her. “She is also the only woman,” he said, “who has reduced Prince and Bob Dylan to puddles of admiration and … love-struck mush.” Kot’s book I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March Up Freedom’s Highway (Scribner) was published earlier this year.
The singer and her band—including her sister Yvonne—performed a rousing 30-minute set, opening with Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and closing with the No. 1 hit “I’ll Take You There”—on which the audience enthusiastically sang backup.
Emceed by veteran New York DJ and WFUV afternoon host Dennis Elsas, the evening gave the station a chance to highlight its unique blend of music by new and legendary artists as well as quality news and sports that provide valuable training for student broadcasters. General Manager Chuck Singleton announced that the station’s weekly listeners now top 400,000.
“This is an audience delivered by quality,” said Scott Simon, the celebrated host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, who was honored with the WFUV Charles Osgood Lifetime Achievement Award. Simon’s tweets chronicling the final days of his mother’s life moved millions of readers in the Twitterverse and beyond last year.
Simon was introduced by Osgood himself, a 1954 Fordham graduate, who said that his father admired the work of Simon’s father, Ernie Simon, a radio host and comedian.
Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, told the crowd that FUV is “all about excellence, it’s all about being slightly unexpected, and it’s all about New York”—a fitting opener for the presentation of the station’s Community Service Award to Katherine Oliver, a principal at Bloomberg Associates and pioneering commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting. In accepting the award, she thanked her boss of more than 12 years, former mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, she said, “continues to use media and technology to help change the world.”
In accepting the station’s Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports Broadcasting, Verne Lundquist, CBS Sports play-by-play announcer for the NCAA Tournament, recalled one of Scully’s calls from the 1988 World Series: An injured Kirk Gibson hobbled to the plate for the Dodgers and hit a home run. “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,” said Scully, a 1949 Fordham graduate who, like Osgood, began his career as a student broadcaster at WFUV.
In the midst of his 50th year as a broadcaster, Lundquist said, and a career of a lot of improbable moments, receiving the Vin Scully award “is the fulfillment of all of them.”
The evening opened with a performance by Amy Helm, daughter of the late Levon Helm, who received WFUV’s Artist of the Year award in 2010, and concluded with a live auction. Guests bid on rare items and special experiences, like a private concert for 20 by Suzanne Vega at WFUV’s Studio A and a VIP package for the Austin City Limits music festival. Fans and supporters can bid on many other items until May 22 via Charitybuzz, with all proceeds supporting WFUV.