On Monday night, at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, adults in suits without ties and loose dresses populated the youth wing, sitting near stacks of children’s books, some in children’s chairs, with drinks in hand for the 24th annual library gala.
The benefit, which raised $1.5 million, paid tribute to Jay-Z and his mother, Gloria Carter, co-founder and executive director of the Shawn Carter Foundation. (She did not attend.)
Nearby were pieces from “The Book of Hov” exhibit, including boxed CDs, magazine covers, statues of Grammy and Emmy Awards and a full-scale replica of a studio, featuring artifacts tracing the artist’s decades-long career. . The exhibit opened in July and ran through Dec. 4, Jay-Z’s birthday.
On a scribbled chalkboard, a large depiction of a green dragon floated above stacked glasses at a bar serving Ace of Spades champagne and D’Ussé cognac, the rapper’s brands.
“You’ve experienced the multiple open bars inside the public library. “This is how you achieve literacy,” Baratunde Thurston, writer and cultural critic, joked while organizing the event.
Hundreds of guests spread out on the main floor to enjoy cocktails and a buffet of prime rib, grilled salmon and preserved lemon chicken. The information area of the building was transformed into a cafeteria-like seating area.
Xiomara Hall, a friend of library board member Cassandra Metz, flew in from Kansas City that morning after attending the final show of Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour.
“This was my library growing up, and there was never an exhibition or recognition of a black artist that had an impact in this way, in this library, when I was growing up,” Ms. Hall said.
“So it’s powerful for me to go back to the library of my childhood and see someone like him, who is also a Brooklyn native, receive this honor.”
In conjunction with the exhibit, which took place as New York City celebrated the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, the library also introduced special edition “Book of Hov” library cards, featuring 13 cards designed with the solo album covers of the rapper.
Since the expo began, more than 80,000 limited-edition cards have been issued and more than 20,000 new library accounts have been opened, according to library representatives.
For the evening’s remarks, guests moved to a covered structure along the library’s entrance while Questlove served as DJ.
In the front row of nearly 500 white folding chairs, Desiree Perez, executive director of Roc Nation, sat across from Linda E. Johnson, the library’s president and CEO, and her husband, Bruce Ratner, the real estate developer. Also sitting there were Clara Wu Tsai, philanthropist and co-owner of the Brooklyn Nets, and Antonio Delgado, lieutenant governor of New York.
While waiting at an undisclosed nearby location, Jay-Z quietly walked from backstage to his seat.
Singer Victory performed a song in front of sirens and car horns from the Grand Army Plaza roundabout.
Speeches by elected officials and well-known Brooklynites who praised Jay-Z were filled with references to his music.
“As Senate Majority Leader, I had 99 problems,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said as the crowd cheered.
“By the way,” Schumer said, “I live across the street and I wake up every morning reading your lyrics,” referring to some of Jay-Z’s lyrics plastered on the façade of the library entrance, in celebration of the exhibition. .
“…but we all know Jay-Z is a business, man,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.
In a letter read by his sons, Jeremiah, 21, and Joshua, 19, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who was unable to attend and sent his children in his place, wrote that his children were inspired by “life and times”. of Shawn Carter,” a nod to the rapper’s 1999 album.
Mayor Eric Adams spoke next and presented Mrs. Carter’s award to Jay-Z, who sipped from a glass of champagne during the ceremony. The Shawn Carter Foundation recently donated $1.5 million to the library, in partnership with Michael Rubin, CEO of the sporting goods company Fanatics, and the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism founded by Robert Kraft.
Adams said Jay-Z and the exhibit have played an important role in attracting a new generation of young people to the library.
“Now, walking through those doors, there will be young men and women who will come in here just because you said it was okay,” Mr. Adams said.
Taking the stage, Jay-Z, dressed in a Gucci tuxedo, said his mother had given him a “very bad excuse” not to attend.
“She would like to say that she would have loved to be here with you. And she feels incredibly honored. And it’s overwhelming that her son is so amazing,” she continued, crediting her mother for telling him when he was a child that he could be anything.
As he spoke, uniformed police officers held up phones to record the speech.
“I love you!” someone shouted among a crowd of about a dozen onlookers lined up at police barricades along Flatbush Avenue.
“And we love you,” he said, in response. “This is definitely Brooklyn.”
Jay-Z reflected on the library exhibit, which was kept a secret from him.
“I thought maybe it was like a small room and it was more than I deserved,” he said. “I walked in and saw this incredible display.”
“And my grandmother Hattie White got to see it,” he continued. “She just turned 98 and she’s seen a lot.”
“That experience was just overwhelming,” he said.
When the speeches ended, Jay-Z walked upstairs as guests returned to the library’s main floor to pass plates of donuts where Questlove continued DJing. As a parting gift, guests received a copy of “Decoded,” Jay-Z’s 2010 album.
“It was a lot of fun,” an attendee said as he walked in. “That was Monday night. What am I supposed to do on Tuesday?