Sporting a Harvard sweatshirt over a black and white dress, singer Nicole Scherzinger accepted the 2013 Artist of the Year Award before a lively audience at the matinee show of the 28th annual Cultural Rhythms festival Saturday afternoon.
Scherzinger, the former lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, was honored by the Harvard Foundation as part of a day of festivities—including a luncheon, a food festival, and an evening show of student performances—all celebrating cultural diversity on campus.
Scherzinger, who is of Hawaiian, Filipino, and Russian descent and grew up in Kentucky, is the first person of Asian-American heritage to receive the award. In her acceptance speech, she called the honor “an affirmation that at least I’m on the right path.”
Throughout the show, Scherzinger embraced the spirit of the day. After the Harvard Philippine Forum’s performance, she sang “Happy Birthday” to one of the students dancers—in Italian.
“It’s amazing how people from all different backgrounds can take part,” said Scherzinger. “That would explain why I saw the Asian people in the mariachi band earlier. It was beautiful.”
Cracking jokes between acts, Scherzinger also engaged the audience with her sharp and self-deprecating humor. At one point, she posed for a selfie with one of the Irish step dancers.
Scherzinger was introduced at the show by honorary host United States Treasurer Rosa G. Rios ’87, who co-founded Cultural Rhythms as an undergraduate.
“Culture is about experiencing life,” said Rios, returning to the same stage where she once performed. Rios recited a list of Scherzinger’s diverse achievements and contributions, including her performance of “The Phantom of the Opera” for the Queen of England and her philanthropic work to fight human trafficking and breast cancer.
Scherzinger was joined on stage by a number of student groups who performed at the show. Nearly all of them gave Scherzinger a rose at the conclusion of their acts.
First up was the Harvard College Pan-African Dance and Music Ensemble, featuring fast drumming and barefoot dancers. The group was followed by the Mariachi Veritas de Harvard, who played traditional music on guitars and violins.
“How does it feel to be so smart and talented?” Scherzinger asked two of the Mariachi Veritas performers. “I’m starting to feel like an underachiever here.”
Then came Harvard Wushu, who combined martial arts and dance in a traditional Chinese performance. The performers twirled fake swords just inches away from Scherzinger’s face.
Later in the show, Scherzinger got up to dance in her black pumps alongside the Harvard Breakers during their breakdancing routine.
The finale featured an ensemble of performers from every group dancing along to “When I Grow Up” by the Pussycat Dolls. Without hesitation, Scherzinger took the microphone and sang on top of her own vocals.
—Staff writer Anneli L. Tostar can be reached at email@example.com, Follow her on Twitter at @annelitostar.