Can We Talk About?… Oprah’s Legends Ball, the Greatest Kiki of All Time

Can We Talk About?… is a weekly series that is also fully gagging at Luke P. in a speedo.

You know how sometimes you’re super into something that you think, like, everyone else forgot about and then someone brings it up and suddenly you feel seen?

That happened to me this week when I listened to The Nod, a podcast that celebrates black culture from an idiosyncratic and often queer point of view. In the latest episode, co-host Brittany Luse made the argument that Oprah’s Legends Ball put all other superhero films, including Avengers: Endgame, “to shame.”

Though I disagree with calling Oprah’s Legends Ball a “film”—it’s currently only available in five parts on YouTube, and even Oprah’s website gives it short shrift—Luse has a pretty solid argument. Whenever has a league of extraordinary women of such caliber and magnitude been assembled? And when will, or rather could, it happen again?

Moreover, it was incredibly gratifying to know that OLB fandom extends beyond me and my small group of friends. That being said, as Oprah did in 2005, let’s honor these legends and this legendary event.

You knew this was going to be a stunt from the very first moments, when Oprah kicks up her skirt and invites you to her front lawn—which is the size of Rhode Island.

Then Queen O tells us, “This all happened because I forgot to invite Cicely Tyson to my birthday party.” As one does. Side note: Oprah’s humblebrags are never humble and yet never sound like brags…because she’s Oprah Goddamn Winfrey.

Anygay, Oprah decided to invite Cicely Tyson up for lunch—again, as one does—so she could tell the venerated actress and activist how much she meant to her. But then, Lady Winfrey realized she couldn’t have Cicely Tyson without Ruby Dee and before you could say “My best friend Gayle” Oprah had a list of 25 women who had opened doors for her and other black women of the 20th century, including: your fave’s fave Diana Ross, the proudest Mary Tina Turner, pioneering blacktress Diahann Carroll, Oprah’s noted sister-friend Maya Angelou, and civil rights icon Coretta Scott King.

Lunch wasn’t going to cut it for these queens. So in 2005, Oprah instead invited them—the titular “Legends” of the ball as well as 25 upcoming legendary women (from here on out referred to as Young’uns)—to a three-day celebration that would go down in herstory as the greatest kiki the world has ever seen. Take a look at this guest list, henny:

Maya Angelou, Shirley Caesar, Diahann Carroll, Elizabeth Catlett, Ruby Dee, Katherine Dunham, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Nikki Giovanni, Dorothy Height, Lena Horne, Coretta Scott King, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Toni Morrison, Rosa Parks, Leontyne Price, Della Reese, Diana Ross, Naomi Sims, Tina Turner, Cicely Tyson, Alice Walker, Dionne Warwick, and Nancy Wilson.

And that’s just the legends, The Young’uns included Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Chaka Khan, Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Halle Berry, Michelle Fucking Obama, and others who were just happy to be there [*cough*: Ashanti].

There were, however, some notable divas missing in action: Aretha Franklin, who may have missed it due to her aversion to flying; Whoopi Goldberg, but she and Oprah had a reported feud for like 25 years; Whitney Houston, who was just going through it, may she rest; Beyoncé, who was on tour with Destiny’s Child; me…but that’s really just wishful thinking.

Speaking of feuds, the luncheon was an opportunity for some divas to finally clear the air…mostly with Diana Ross. Both Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle felt some type of way about Miss Ross, but, hey, you don’t get to call yourself “The Boss” without stepping on some wigs along the way.

“Diana asked me a real personal question … a girlfriend question,” LaBelle said after OLB. “So I said, well, give me your number and I’ll call you back with the information. I called her back, we started talking. I swear to God, we’ve been talking for the last–since Oprah’s weekend. We’ve been girlfriends.”

Miss Patti went into further detail about their four-decade feud—because a diva can hold two things better than anyone: a note and a grudge—on Oprah’s Next Chapter, long after the dust had settled on the now-legendary Legends Ball. I mean, it basically brokered world peace between two warring superpowers and yet the best we get is some unofficial, low-res, chopped-up YouTube clips?

Not available to stream on Netflix or Hulu or even OWN? Not a 10th anniversary reissue? Oprah indulged us with an ABC special a year after the actual event and then…nothing. This incredibly important historical document, featuring some women who have long since passed, was intended to honor the contributions of black women and yet the document itself has fallen by the wayside.

The epic gospel brunch singlehandedly birthed #blackgirlmagic and reminded us all that you can’t take Patti LaBelle nowhere. With all the divas in attendance in their finest Sunday best—hats for days, decades, and centuries—gospel singer B.B. Winans starts passing the mic and as Oprah shrewdly observed, “I knew it, I knew it. You could not have Gladys Knight and Dionne Warwick and Patti LaBelle and Shirley Caesar…you could not have all of them and not have Jesus show up.”

And you know Oprah’s not kidding. Jesus H. Christ sidled up to Patti, whispered, “You got this, bitch” and watched beatifically as she got ready to sucker-punch the Devil in the nads.

Here, YouTube comes in especially handy with this lovingly-made and brilliantly-edited tribute to Jesus’s spirited arrival to Oprah’s house:
 

Bet you didn’t know the Apocalypse already happened…though looking around at the world today, that does explain a lot.

Oprah’s Legends Ball was a beautiful, inspiring, wig-snatching, gag-worthy, once-in-a-lifetime experience and it’s probably impossible to capture in words. Though, the OG inspiration behind the Ball, Cicely Tyson, may have put it best:

The image of pioneering black women tearing up as the women they inspired and opened doors and paved uncharted roads for pay them proper tribute—”We speak their names!” the Young’uns frequently intoned—is one that deserves preservation. So, Your Excellency Oprah of Harpo Studios, give this the HD streaming treatment it and we deserve so we too can speak their names for ages to come.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is a roaming writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He’s formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat


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