LONDON — Will Smith charmed the crowd and Amy Winehouse wowed them just by showing up, but Nelson Mandela proved to be the biggest star of all at a concert Friday in honor of the South African statesman's 90th birthday.
Acts including Queen, Razorlight, Leona Lewis and a host of African stars joined more than 40,000 music fans for the outdoor show in London's Hyde Park, hosted by movie star Smith and held to mark Mandela's birthday on July 18.
Josh Groban and the Soweto Gospel Choir also performed at the event, which comes 20 years after a 70th birthday concert for an absent Mandela at London's Wembley Stadium. Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist, had at that point been imprisoned in South Africa for 25 years. He told the crowd Friday that that concert made a big difference in his eventual release and the fight against the racist system, which was dismantled in the early 1990s.
"Your voices carried across the water to inspire us in our prison cells far away," said Mandela, who got the biggest cheers of the night. "… But even as we celebrate, let us remind ourselves that our work is far from complete."
Mandela was released from prison in 1990 after spending 27 years behind bars. He was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994 and retired from politics in 1999. He has since campaigned to prevent the spread of AIDS.
Proceeds from the show — for which there were 46,664 tickets — are going to 46664, an AIDS charity named for the number Mandela wore in prison.
Also on Friday, Congress sent President Bush a bill that will allow Mandela to visit the United States without the secretary of state having to certify he is not a terrorist. Negotiators from the Senate and the House agreed Thursday night on a final version of the bill to remove from U.S. databases the names of the former South African president and anybody else marked only because of a relationship with the African National Congress. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told lawmakers in April that she was embarrassed by the situation.