Possibly, the biggest gathering of celebrities, heads of state, and religious leaders the world has ever seen took place on Tuesday in a near-100,000 capacity football stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The event was the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, who passed away Dec 5 from a lung infection.
Mandela was born to a royal family in South Africa on July 18, 1918. He was an anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, philanthropist and former prison inmate who served as president of South Africa from 1994 until 1999, becoming South Africa’s first black Chief Executive.
After the South African National Party came to power in 1948, Mandela rose to prominence in its 1952 Defiance Campaign.
Back then, racism was blatantly rampant in South Africa. Whites had all the rights, while blacks had no rights.
Initially committed to non-violent protest, he, however, co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961 in association with the South African Communist Party, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government.
In 1962, he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life in prison.
He served 27 years in prison, initially on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison.
An international campaign lobbied for his release. He was released in 1990, during a time of great civil strife in South Africa.
Upon release, Mandela joined with then-South African President F. W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994, in which he led the ANC to victory and, as mentioned, became the first black president.
His administration was instrumental in combating the spread of the HIV virus through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Expectedly, Mandela has been called everything from a Marxist terrorist to a saint.
Though I’ll let you be your own judge, I will say I admire a man who did 27 years hard time in prison but managed to always flash a big, warm smile for the cameras.
But what’s all this got to do with Bruce Springsteen and “The Sopranos?” Remember when music videos on MTV first started being the really big thing in the early to mid-1980s?
Back then, I was already into the music of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, which was East Coast rock at its best.
One day, sometime in 1985, I turned on the tube, and this rocking video was playing. The musicians in the video were a virtual who’s who of pop music, everyone from Bob Dylan to Miles Davis to Bonnie Raitt to Eddie Kendricks.
Out front, leading the group, though, was this eccentrically-dressed fellow, scarf on his head, a creative scowl on his face. And they were singing, “I ain’t gonna’ play Sun City!”
I conducted some research and, come to find out, the eccentric dude out front was none other than Steven Van Zandt, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen. Further, Sun City was a place in South Africa where apartheid still existed.
As a protest against apartheid, Van Zandt had written the lyrics to “Sun City,” and a host of musicians joined him in the video, proclaiming, essentially, “We ain’t gonna’ play Sun City until you abolish apartheid.”
The interesting irony here, I suppose, is the first time I remember learning of Mandela, his life, and his fight against apartheid, was in 1985, when I was digging Van Zandt and fellow musicians do “Sun City” on MTV.
Still, as many know, Van Zandt would go on to star in the hit TV series “The Sopranos,” playing Silvio Dante, mob boss Tony Soprano’s childhood friend and second in command.
Strangely enough, I recall that when watching “The Sopranos,” I sometimes would think of Mandela.