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Review: Dolly Parton and Jean Paul Gaultier honored at 2019 WAFF Gala (Includes interview and first-hand account)

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Nile Rodgers, the founder and CEO of the We Are Family Foundation, made the welcoming remarks, and he was joined by Nancy Hunt, co-founder and president, and visionary and entrepreneur Abu Qader, who serves as WAFF Youth Ambassador.

Dr. Jeni Stephanek, the mother of the late poet and philosopher, Mattie J.T. Stepanek presented Dolly Parton with the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peacemaker Award with a moving speech, which left the Country Music Hall of Famer overcome with emotions.

Dolly Parton at the 2019 WAFF Gala

Dolly Parton at the 2019 WAFF Gala
Gary Hahn

Jess Teutonico, executive director of WAFF, presented “A Love Letter to Dolly Parton,” where she was joined by other WAFF Youth Ambassadors from all over the world, as they paid a fitting tribute to Parton, and even presented her with yellow flowers as the Youth Ambassadors shared their inspirational stories with the Hammerstein Ballroom audience.

Rodgers and WAFF Youth Ambassador Sayid Abdullaev honored veteran fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier for his philanthropy with the 2019 “We Are Family Foundation Humanitarian Award.” Both honorees received standing ovations, and rightfully so.

A live auction followed the awards presentation that was hosted by comedian Russell Peters and facilitated by Rodgers and Hunt. Acclaimed rappers Grandmaster Caz and Melle Mel (of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five) were also a part of this auction.

Nile Rodgers and his band Chic (featuring Kimberly Davis on lead vocals) subsequently provided the musical entertainment of the evening with a full concert. Country queen Dolly Parton joined them on stage for several songs that included “Two Doors Down,” “9 to 5,” and a tender version of “I Will Always Love You.”

Red carpet interviews

Prior to the event, the honorees and co-founder Nile Rodgers participated in press on the red carpet, and they were photographed by photographers.

Jean Paul Gaultier

On receiving the “Humanitarian Award,” Gaultier said, “It is honorific. It is an honor for me to be a part of that family, which is fabulous. The We Are Family Foundation does so many things for the young stars. It’s a big chance to be a part of that and to see how beautiful it can be. The We Are Family Foundation is a real family.”

Gaultier defined the word success as “staying true to yourself.” “Be yourself. Stay free. Don’t accept compromise,” he said.

Dolly Parton

Parton briefly spoke about co-hosting the 2019 Country Music Association (CMA) awards with Carrie Underwood and Reba McEntire. “I love both of them. We worked together before on different things and this is the first time that we get to do it on the CMAs. We are excited about it,” she said.

She shared that she encourages female empowerment. “Women always should get their dues. I’ve been working on this all my life and I’ve always been for the gals and I’m always proud to work with my ‘sisters’,” Parton said.

Parton also spoke about her Netflix special, Heartstrings, which was inspired by her music. “This is the first time I’m working with Netflix in this way, and we’ll see how it goes. Heartstrings is the name of the series and it is a movie based on songs that I’ve written. I am excited about that. We just had a big premiere of it in Dollywood,” she said.

Nile Rodgers

On honoring tonight’s honorees, Rodgers remarked, “Dolly Parton and Jean Paul Gaultier are two wonderful, wonderful people with big hearts.”

He also had nothing but the kindest words about Dr. Jeni Stepanek, whose late son is the namesake of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peacemaker Award. “We love her and we adore her,” Rodgers said. “Our platform was founded basically by her son. Jeni is like our ‘mom’ and our ‘soul mother’.”

On his plans for the future with the WAFF, Rodgers said, “We just keep going and we keep getting great new kids that are changing the world as we speak. I just hope next year will be another great year.”

Rodgers concluded by offering a quote in memory of the late but great electronic dance producer and DJ Avicii, who he had the privilege of collaborating with on several occasions. “I miss him so much. I just loved him. I adored him,” he said.

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 21,000 original articles over the past 18 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a 16-time "Best of Long Island" winner, where for three consecutive years (2020, 2021, and 2022), he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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