Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz will be one of the featured artists July 21 on stage at the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert at Northerly Island, marking five decades since the “games for all” first took place at Soldier Field in 1968.
The appearance comes just a year after Mraz and teenage ukulele phenom Grace VanderWaal teamed up for a similar concert at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria with emotional performances of his hit songs like “I’m Yours” delivered under the pouring rain to thousands of cheering onlookers.
SPECIAL OLYMPICS 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION CONCERT
When: 5:30 p.m. July 21
Where: Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island, 1300 S. Lynn White Dr.
“We performed right after all the athletes came rushing out of this tunnel, and you could see on their faces how far they’ve come. Not just the miles to get to the games, but even the many miles in their country to earn their spot — you could see that pride. I had chills,” remembers Mraz who was so touched by the moment, he wanted to do more.
“While we were there in Austria, I got wind that the Special Olympics would soon be celebrating 50 years and I said, ‘Well count me in.’ And sure enough they called and we were one of the first people on board,” he says. “I’m really excited to attend and bring more awareness and help raise funds to support the great athletes, teachers, founders, coaches, volunteers and families. The great thing about Special Olympics is it provides opportunity,” he continues, a staunch believer in the games’ newest platform to bring about an Inclusion Revolution. “Life can totally suck no matter who you are, but especially if you’ve been given tough circumstances right off the bat.”
The event, also featuring Usher, Smokey Robinson, Francis and the Lights, Daya, O.A.R. and of course headliner Chance the Rapper, is presented by Chance’s company, Social Function Productions. Though Mraz hasn’t worked directly with the hip-hop star, he does say, “I know Chance personally requested I sing [hit single] ‘The Remedy’ so I’m putting that song in my set. I’m touched he even knows who I am. …He has given lots of love to Chicago and I’m glad that he wanted to add this to his long list of work in the city.”
The singer’s own Jason Mraz Foundation, started in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, in 2010, also will be a part of the landmark concert including a local adaptation of the foundation’s LIVE ART program. The “equally inclusive” after school program is for students of all ages, with and without disabilities, that use performing arts to find common ground and share messages of acceptance, compassion and empathy. Every June, it culminates in a mixed media event with a showcase of song, dance and visual arts.
“LIVE ART really tries to be the Special Olympics of performing arts programs,” says Mraz. “It’s really transformed lives, for the students in it and their families and those in the Richmond community. …We’ve been trying to figure out how to replicate it in different towns, and so we will be bringing LIVE ART teachers to Chicago to work with area schools and athletes to perform with me during my set,” continues Mraz, who will be teaming up with After School Matters and Illinois Special Olympic Athletes, among others, for the occasion.
“It’s also a way to spotlight today’s youth,” he continues. “I’m getting old, I feel like, why do you want to look at me? Let’s put some people on the stage that want to be seen. A lot of kids today really want that experience.”
Mraz remembers that feeling 15 years ago when his debut album, “Waiting For My Rocket to Come,” shot him from the small coffeehouses he was playing to the national spotlight with Platinum Certification and two Grammy Awards. And though his newest album, “Know,” to be released in August will be much of the same ilk — a collection of acoustic pop, blue-eyed soul and reggae inspiration—Mraz’s material source has come far in that time. The philanthropist considers himself a “songwriter in service” who firmly believes in imbuing his music with positive, do-good messages, though he found that hard at times writing the latest songs given the state of the world around him.
“I really thought I was going to be able to get some edgier, darker songs out on this record, but I realized I don’t want my legacy in music to be ungrateful, frustrated songs. Love will last forever and ignorant presidents will only last for one or two terms so I don’t want to add more energy to ignorance, I want to add more energy to how to return to love because that is what will get us through it,” he says, noting he was inspired by a trip to Myanmar and performing on Broadway in Sara Bareilles’ “Waitress” musical that reawakened his joy of performing.
“I figured if I have a song that’s pointing the finger at someone, then I am no different than them; that’s not inclusion. I instead wanted to sing my humanity and reach humanity in the process.”