Fifth Star Awards inspire attendees



Four Star Brass Band performed in tribute to the renowned artists that were honored at the Fifth Star Awards in Millennium Park on Sept. 17.

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

The inaugural Fifth Star Awards honored the work of four artists and one national historic landmark Sept. 17 at Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St.

The award ceremony, conceived by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office and the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, takes its name from the Chicago flag. The four red stars signify important events in the city’s history. The event does not actually add a fifth star but honors those who help the city move forward.

The ceremony honored Lou Conte, Ramsey Lewis, Richard Hunt, Lois Weisberg and the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events estimates that 2,500 people attended the event. 

Michelle T. Boone, commissioner of the department, welcomed the audience with a monologue about the influence prominent artists have on the city of Chicago.

“We are gathered here to add five more to that luminous body of cultural stars,” Boone said. “Tonight is a night of celebration and [many] thanks to Chicagoans that have made our lives better by sharing their life’s work with us and the world.”

The first honoree of the night was Conte, a dancer, choreographer and founder of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Conte’s accomplishments were highlighted by fellow choreographer and colleague Twyla Tharp. A group of dancers from Hubbard Street Dance also performed excerpts from choreographer Nacho Duato’s “Gnawa” in Conte’s honor.

“Conte came to Chicago with a vision,” Tharp said. “Part of that vision is that dance must always be in the service of the community. He never forgot the big picture that art is life and that dance and dancers realize human potential at its very best.”

WBEZ correspondent Richard Steele introduced the night’s second honoree, Grammy award-winning jazz composer Ramsey Lewis. Ravinia Festival president Welz Kauffman and student Alexis Lanier performed a medley of Lewis’ songs and Grammy-winning vocalist Kurt Elling performed Lewis’ song “The In Crowd.”

“Music is what makes Chicago,” Steele said. “It flows through our veins with a constant soundtrack playing in our hearts. [Lewis is] one of the nation’s most successful jazz pianists of all time. [He] has chart-topping singles that have each sold millions of copies.”

Hunt, a renowned sculptor, was recognized by Carol Adams, president and CEO of the DuSable Museum of African American History. Adams talked about her admiration for Hunt and his excellence.

“[Hunt has] more public displays of art across the city than any other artist,” Adams said. “Tonight, we are proud to add the Fifth Star Award among his many well-deserved accolades. We salute you.”

Weisberg, Chicago’s former Cultural Affairs commissioner for more than 20 years, was introduced by Jim Law, the former executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events. Law highlighted Weisberg’s numerous accomplishments in making art and culture more integrated aspects throughout the city. He recalled some of Weisberg’s biggest accomplishments—“Cows on Parade,” Gallery 37 and the Chicago Cultural Center.

“[Weisberg] insisted the arts be vital and accessible to Chicagoans as all other basic city services,” Law said. “It was not that arts and culture were not present in Chicago,but to become the bigger, more visible international stage was needed for a city with so many artists, performers and cultural institutions.”

The last honoree of the night was the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, a 125-year-old national landmark that hosts performers such as the Joffrey Ballet and  various plays. The theatre was recognized for its service and excellence  by Rolf Achilles, an art curator and historian. 

“The Auditorium Theatre has influenced and evolved each decade, ushering in a new challenge and a new voice,” Achilles said. “The theatre has adapted and grown, but we have always remained dedicated to providing the highest quality of artistic experiences.”

In a statement released on Sept. 18, Boone said the Fifth Star Awards were a success and planning for the 2015 award ceremony is underway.

“Congratulations again to Lou Conte, Richard Hunt, Ramsey Lewis, Lois Weisberg and the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University,” Boone said. “The Fifth Star Awards was a fitting tribute to five exemplary representatives of Chicago’s cultural scene who have made our lives better by sharing their life’s work with us and the world.”