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Wyclef Jean Sets Tone at Cultural Event

Harvard Foundation recognizes rapper’s humanitarian work in Haiti

By Tara W. Merrigan, Crimson Staff Writer

The Harvard Foundation named multi-platinum artist Wyclef Jean the 2010 Artist of the Year during its 25th annual Cultural Rhythms show on Saturday.

The event included an afternoon and evening show in Sanders Theatre and a Food Festival featuring international cuisines prepared by cultural groups on campus.

The selection of the Artist of the Year is based upon an individual’s humanitarian work, according to Harvard Foundation Director S. Allen Counter. Jean, a Haitian-American who founded the Yéle Haiti Foundation, made significant contributions to the relief efforts in the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake that crippled Haiti in January.

“We couldn’t have anticipated the Haiti earthquake. However, it demonstrated Jean’s humanitarian bent,” Counter said. “As we came closer to narrowing the choice down, naturally his humanitarian efforts in Haiti were a factor in his selection.”

Before an audience that included Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith and Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds, Jean celebrated the cultures of performance groups, in addition to his own, and urged the audience to continue to support Haiti.

“As the news cameras go down, let’s keep fundraising, sending doctors and helping rebuild the infrastructure of Haiti,” Jean said.

When Jean took the stage for the afternoon show, he showed off his crimson Harvard sweatshirt and then performed a rap that incorporated multiple languages as well as his own Haitian background.

“Wyclef Jean’s opening rap with its use of different languages exemplified what Cultural Rhythms is—the bringing together and celebration of different backgrounds,” said Kevin X. Liu ’11, the co-director of the afternoon show.

Fifteen cultural groups—including the Asian American Dance Troupe, the Kuumba Singers, and the Harvard Breakers—performed in the afternoon show.

U.S. Treasurer Rosa C. Rios ’87, who introduced the performance by Ballet Folklórico de Aztlán, was also a special guest.

The evening show, which was hosted by Jonathan Figueroa ’10 and Erinn V. Westbrook ’10, included a dance competition for the 150 children in the audience who participate in Phillips Brooks House Association programs, according to evening show co-director Miguel Garcia ’12.

Jean also made a surprise appearance at the evening show, opening it with an original arrangement on the acoustic guitar that included his song “Sweetest Girl.”

To honor the event’s 25th anniversary, a special alumni reception was held Saturday morning and a video montage of memorable moments was played at the start of the afternoon show.

“I was moved by how cohesive we are as a Harvard family,” Counter said. “It was wonderful to see students of all backgrounds come together as a family for these performances.”

In the past, Artists of the Year have included actors Matt Damon ’92–’93, Will Smith, and Denzel Washington and actresses Halle Berry and Salma Hayek.

—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at

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