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Chance the Rapper, Jason Mraz light the way at Special Olympics concert event

Chance The Rapper performs at the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Concert at Northerly Island, Saturday night, July 21, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chance The Rapper performs at the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Concert at Northerly Island, Saturday night, July 21, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

On July 20, 1968, the Special Olympics held the first-ever World Games at Soldier Field with 1,000 athletes representing countries from across the globe. Fifty years later, the organization feted its landmark anniversary Saturday night, just steps away at Northerly Island with a star-studded concert welcoming 10,000 people, including many of the athletes and coaches who participated in anniversary games and special events over the course of the previous four days.

The celebration notably featured headliner and hometown hero Chance the Rapper and was one of the first events produced by his new company Social Functions Productions, in association with Live Nation. Before he took the stage, Maria and Tim Shriver, the children of late Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, said a few words about their mother’s legacy and give a hearty introduction to the rapper.

“We are so excited about Chance’s leadership and think that if his fans and his following see him embracing this cause, we can head into the next 50 years,” said Tim Shriver, passing the Special Olympics torch to a new generation. (Notably absent from the onstage festivities were Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other key city officials.)

At just 25 years old, Chance has shown a penchant for social causes, donating millions to Chicago Public Schools, creating his own SocialWorks youth empowerment organization (which had a booth at the concert) and just this week making headlines for purchasing the shuttered media outlet Chicagoist in an effort to “amplify diverse voices and content.”

While other performers on this night sometimes struggled to fully engage the audience, Chance got everyone on their feet. In his first hometown show of 2018, the singer ably blurred the lines between preacher and performer, artist and activist, in a way few of his stature have done at a time when this country craves guidance.

Though he had the attention of a crowd full of his branded “3” hats, the emcee chose not to turn his performance into a soapbox, however. Instead, he debuted the live performance of “Work Out,” (one of four new songs released this week), prefaced by a shoutout to his new fiancee, longtime girlfriend Kirsten Corley. And he focused on the greater cause of this night. “It’s an honor to be on this stage. All you athletes in the audience — you keep shining, you inspire me so much,” he said as he wrapped up his brief nine-song set, which was devoid of any rumored special guests.

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Jason Mraz gets some help signing a song at a concert for the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics at Northerly Island. | ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES

Jason Mraz gets some help signing a song at a concert for the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics at Northerly Island. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The night, overall, had a slew of famous well-wishers, including Olympians Michelle Kwan, Michael Phelps and Hannah Teter, as well as Chicago Bulls star Jabari Parker, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz and WWE star Big Show, as well as recorded video segments from Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and the Roots and Bono. Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who was instrumental in the founding of Special Olympics, also said a few words.

The rest of the evening’s music lineup featured pop star Usher, who amped up the crowd with renditions of club hits “OMG” and “Yeah!,” as well as young pop star Daya, jam band O.A.R., an unannounced set by R&B singer Carl Thomas, and Motown legend Smokey Robison, who was spot-on during “Second That Emotion” and “Tracks of My Tears.” Francis & the Lights was a crowd-pleaser for his high-tech set featuring “Morning” (also known as the “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” theme song) and a cover of Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love”—  as well as having his set crashed by Chance.

Usher performs at the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Concert at Northerly Island, Saturday night, July 21, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Usher performs at the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Concert at Northerly Island, Saturday night, July 21, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

But perhaps the most memorable set of the night came from singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, the only singer joined on stage by Special Olympics athletes, children from Chicago’s After School Matters program, and kids from his Live Art program in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, all of whom accompanied him on heartfelt renditions of songs like his hit “Remedy.”

The five decades of the Special Olympics were also memorialized in several video montages, introducing the audience to personal stories of some of the organization’s benefactors, as well as the announcement by Tim Shriver of the eternal flame, which was lit in Soldier Field to keep the organization and its home in Chicago forever burning bright.

Chance The Rapper Set List:
1. Everybody’s Something
2. Blessings
3. Angels
4. Cocoa Butter Kisses
5. Wonderful Everyday [“Arthur” theme song]
6. Work Out
7. All We Got
8. No Problem
9. Blessings (Reprise)

Francis and the Lights at Special Olympics 50th Anniversary concert, July 21, 2018. | ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES

Francis and the Lights at the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary concert at Northerly Island, July 21, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times