If there’s one single event in the music industry year besides the Grammys that draws more top-flight executives than any other, it’s the United Jewish Appeal’s luncheon, which raises money for the organization and honors a different executive with its Music Visionary of the Year accolade. This year, it was Universal Music Group EVP Michele Anthony — who, according to Glassnote founder and UJA vice chair Daniel Glass, has raised $1.85 million for the organization with this event — and was the first female executive to be honored on her own, and not in partnership with a male colleague.
Anthony’s longtime friend Sharon Osbourne emcee’d the event, and both Def Jam recording artist Alessia Cara and Eddie Vedder and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam — with whom Anthony has worked for more than 25 years — performed.
Funds raised at the event are shared across various UJA efforts, and Anthony noted that 75 percent of the record donations from the day’s event will go toward its programs to advance women.
“I’m very impressed with the UJA’s women’s programs,” Anthony told Variety before the event. “For example, in 2020 the notorious Bayview Prison [in Manhattan], which had the highest rate of abuse against prisoners by guards of any prison in the country, is being turned into a destination spot for women’s non-profit services. Look, I’m a child of the ‘60s, so work and activism go hand in hand, and I’ve been blessed to have artists like Eddie Vedder, whose activism and philanthropy have had made as much of an impact as his music has on the world.”
In attendance were virtually every major label and major publisher chief — except, sadly, UMG chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge, whose brother Nigel passed away earlier this week — and several hundred other top executives.
Anthony was honored in speeches by many of her friends and longtime colleagues, who spoke at length about her great ability at working with artists, her generosity, her modesty, her ambition and formidable negotiating skills. These included Osbourne — “If there’s anyone who is a music visionary, it truly is Michele” — Universal Music Publishing CEO Jody Gerson — “In a business that is notoriously difficult for women, you’ve helped mentor, console and nurture so many” — and veteran manager Irving Azoff — “No matter whether she was a lawyer, a record company executive, a voice for a cause or a confidante for a creator, she gives all of herself.”
A longer tribute came from feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Anthony’s longtime friend and avowed inspiration. “I get to stand up here and tell Michele how great she is,” she said, “Michele, the great nurturer of others, has to listen! You have to let us tell you how fan-fucking-tastic you are!” she laughed. She told a story about how, “even as someone not in the music world,” she heard about Pearl Jam in the early ‘90s. “As their first-ever benefit, the chose to do a performance for Voters for Choice, a pro-choice political activism committee” that Steinem had helped to found. “An all-male group in support of a woman’s reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right?
“And who was the nurturing force behind this new, very principled group called Pearl Jam?,” she asked. “It was a woman named Michele Anthony.”
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder (left) and Stone Gossard paying tribute to Anthony (Photo: LOVEKIN/VARIETY/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK)
Steinem spoke for 12 minutes, but the highlight was probably when she spoke of Anthony’s days of working as a teenager for her father, legendary Peter Frampton and Tony Bennett manager Dee Anthony, “It dawned on me that just as Mozart was a child prodigy at making music, Michele was a child prodigy at understanding music makers. Michele, did you ever think you’d be compared to Mozart?”
Yet the most fitting people to pay tribute to Anthony is the band that, as she puts it, has come to define her career: Pearl Jam. She began working with its members in the late 1980s as the attorney for Mother Love Bone, the group that evolved into Pearl Jam, and later as their label executive at both Sony Music and currently at Universal.
Vedder took the stage and delivered one of his characteristically impressionist but vivid dedications. “I’m surprised no one has mentioned Michele’s monochromatic fashion sense,” he laughed of the eternally black-clad Anthony. “She’s the woman in black — you’d be more likely to find a picture of Johnny Cash in something floral.
“There’s a cool thing that happens, it’s almost like a parlor trick, when someone meets Michele,” he continued. “After she leaves, they say, ‘Who was that? She was amazing.’ I say, ‘Well, she’s actually one of if not the most powerful woman in the music business.’ And they’re always surprised — she has such great energy and she’s such a real person. And then I think, ‘Why do I have to say that? It’s not about her being a woman. It’s like Sleater-Kinney — they’re not he greatest all-girl band, they’re the greatest band. But until there’s equality I think it does have to be said. I can’t wait for the day when we don’t have to say it.”
Watch David Letterman’s Epic Pearl Jam Speech at the Rock Hall of Fame
Vedder then held up a ukulele. “So this here is a ukulele,” he said, “and this is an example of how supportive Michele is. I said ‘Michele, I have a record I wanna put out [2011’s ‘Ukelele Songs’]. It’s gonna be all ukulele songs.’ And she said [hesitantly], “Oh, great!” I pictured her hanging up the phone and saying ‘Motherf—er!’ So this song is a love song I wrote for my wife. I said, ‘Can I play it for Michele?’ and she said ‘For Michele Anthony? Absolutely!’ And the only other person she gave me permission to sing it to was Barack Obama.”
Vedder then performed “Without You,” and afterward was joined by Pearl Jam guitarist Gossard for “Daughter.”
He began with another dedication. “One of the reasons we still keep playing 25 or whatever years later is because of some of the sacrifices she’s made and her encouragement,” he said. “In those early times we were fortunate to have this steamroller of success. We did have an opportunity to do things in a way that we felt would be beneficial for us and for the listener and for even the industry, if they were able to break out of a certain mold or defined trench or concrete plan. But we couldn’t have done any of that, or even attempted any of it, without [her] support and intellect, and a captain to help us navigate a North Star to set our compass.
“I remember one day she came to where we were staying in this little hotel in Boulder, where was it? [he looked to Anthony in the crowd] — oh, it was a holiday inn in Amherst? [laughter]. And before soundcheck we had a great talk, it was very supportive and it kind of reset some things mentally and allowed me to get back on track and really think about the art and writing and singing. And then we wrote this one in the bathroom, and then we played it on the bus late that night. But if not for you, were might not have survived these times and those times. So uh, there’s just so much to say, we’ll just sing a song. Thank you, Michele — my sister, our sister.”
Anthony concluded the event with some heartfelt thanks.
To Steinem: “You’ve been my hero and mentor since before we met. As a teenager you inspired both me and my mom. You changed my life and profoundly changed the world for women everywhere.”
To Osbourne: “We go back over 35 years with fathers who helped start this crazy business of music [Osbourne’s father was legendarily combative Black Sabbath manager Don Arden], very few shared the kind of childhood we had in the ‘60s, it the best education money couldn’t buy.”
To Grainge: “Sir Lucian, I love you. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family today.”
To Azoff: “Irving, my surrogate big brother, like my dad you taught me to fight fiercely for artists and the underdog, and to negotiate fearlessly.”
To Danny Bennett, Universal executive and Tony’s son: “Who I’ve literally been on the road with since we were babies.”
To her mother, “who continues to inspire me every day,” many family members, friends and Universal colleagues and the UJA.
To Cara: “Thank you for that amazing performance and being a shining example of empowerment to young women everywhere.”
And “one last thank you to my Pearl Jam family, to my dear Kelly [Curtis, longtime manager], my partner for 30 years. To Nicole [Vandenberg], who introduced us to Gloria and came into our world to strengthen our activism. To Stone, you set the example from the earliest days of Mother Love Bone with your work in music and activism, I love you and I’m so grateful that you’re here.
“And finally thank you to Pearl Jam. I wish that one day each of you in this room has the good fortune to have an artist enter your life who not only defines your career but also your humanity. ‘Music Visionary’ is a grandiose title — it really belongs to an artist and I’ve had the privilege to work with many great ones over the decades. But to me, Eddie Vedder is the artist who truly embodies it all. He has my heart. And I know Ed hates these kind of events and would rather stay in the background moving mountains. But as someone who’s had the honor of working with him and being his sister for over two-and-a-half decades, I can tell you he’s the kind of guys who shows up for people.
“He and Gloria taught me that work and activism are one,” she concluded. “Ed, for your work to help free the West Memphis 3, to your pro-choice and women’s rights fundraisers, your [Hurricane] Katrina and environmental activism, to protecting veterans’ rights — words can’t express how grateful I am that you are here today. I love you with all my heart.”