The Starkey Hearing Foundation has been able to call on some big-name musicians to entertain at its annual So the World May Hear gala in St. Paul — Garth Brooks, John Mellencamp and Elton John, twice no less.
There also have been some well-known singers who were momentarily out of the spotlight, including Kenny Loggins, Trisha Yearwood and one Miley “Don’t Call Me Hannah Montana Anymore” Cyrus before she discovered her true self and twerking.
But never before has Starkey, an Eden Prairie-based hearing-aid company, had the good timing to land a star who could boast a No. 1 pop song that same year. Yet John Legend — the voice of “All of Me,” the love ballad of 2014 that he sang at the Kim Kardashian/Kanye West wedding this spring — wasn’t even the headliner Sunday at the 14th annual gala at the RiverCentre. Enduring rocker Sammy Hagar drew that honor and blasted the 1,600 gala-goers who, ironically, should have been reaching for earplugs at an evening about bringing hearing aids to children in Third World countries (a record $8.7 million was raised Sunday).
Legend was more soothing on the ears, eyes and hearts. Exactly one month after seducing a Mystic Lake Casino crowd, the romantic piano man made the most of his three-song set on Sunday. The first number fit the occasion — a heartfelt cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which repeated the peace theme heard throughout the Starkey program that also featured Nobel Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu and two fathers — one Israeli, one Palestinian who had both lost children to hostile gunfire — from the Parents Circle-Families Forum.
Legend’s other two selections — “Ordinary People,” his 2005 breakthrough hit, and “All of Me,” his sweet, high cooing about loving someone with all her imperfections — seemed right for the night, too. Other singers included Jessica Sanchez, an “American Idol” runner-up, and Rob Thomas, whose three-song set included a slowed-down acoustic reading of his band Matchbox 20’s “3 A.M.”
Hagar, the former Van Halen lead singer, had some familiar faces in his T-shirt-clad band: ex-Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. So, not surprisingly, the roaring half-hour set started with Hagar’s biggest solo hit, 1984’s “I Can’t Drive 55,” and then cruised through the Van Halen favorite “Why Can’t This Be Love” and Zeppelin’s classic “Rock and Roll.” Hagar, 66, rocked the house — and drove some black-tie gala-goers out of the ballroom. He said he’d leave the speeches up to the experts, but at set’s end, he declared: “We’re all going to need hearing aids.”
Among the celebrities at the gala were actors Keith David, Marlee Matlin and Daymond John; basketball stars Ralph Sampson, Dikembe Mutumbo and Caron Butler; baseball heroes Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield, and several Viking vets including Carl Eller, Robert Smith and Chuck Foreman.
The 5-hour program dragged on like the Academy Awards with speeches by do-gooders the crowd had probably never heard of and speeches by people who are as famous as Hollywood stars. Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill Clinton and his Clinton Global Initiative have worked with Starkey for several years, introduced Tutu. He jokingly asked if she was going to live in the White House again. Then, apparently speaking without notes or TelePrompTer, he talked about the plane crash in Ukraine, the need for peace and our obligation to put a smile to God’s face. He said he had a hot line to God and the word was to thank everyone for all they do to help others.