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Latest update : 2009-07-19

Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and other high-profile singers performed at a New York concert in celebration of Nelson Mandela's 91st birthday. The iconic anti-apartheid leader could not attend.

AFP - Dozens of big-name performers and actors gathered at a major charity concert in New York late Saturday to pay tribute to iconic anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela on his 91st birthday.

Gloria Gaynor kicked off the gala at the majestic Radio City Music Hall, in the heart of Manhattan, with a rousing performance of her 1978 disco hit "I Will Survive."

Celebrities on the performance list included Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and the first lady of France, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, as well as Queen Latifah, Wyclef Jean, Lil' Kim, Gloria Gaynor, the Soweto Gospel Choir and African artists Angelique Kidjo, Baaba Maal and Sipho Mabuse.

Hollywood stars that support the Mandela Foundation charity at the event included actors Forest Whitaker, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, and Matt Damon.

The "Mandela Day" gala crowns a week of celebrations honoring the legendary rights activist, who battled apartheid in South Africa before becoming the country's first black president from 1994 to 1999.

But the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize winner, whose health is increasingly fragile, is not attending.

Organizers hope that "Mandela Day" will become an event observed around the world paying tribute to the South African leader's accomplishments.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon paid homage to Mandela late Friday, describing him as "a living embodiment of the highest values of the United Nations."

The "Mandela Day" campaign is organized by several charitable organizations under the collective name 46664 -- the prison identification number assigned to Mandela during his 27 years in South African prisons.

The model-turned-singer Bruni-Sarkozy, who said she would stop performing publicly after marrying French President Nicolas Sarkozy, agreed to sing Saturday only because the groups organizing the gala carry out AIDS-prevention work.

Bruni-Sarkozy's brother died of the illness, and she is an ambassador for international funds fighting AIDS.

France's first lady arrived in New York late Thursday along with her husband, who held a working lunch with Ban at the French consulate on Friday -- the only work-related meeting on the French first couple's brief US visit.

The pair is scheduled to return to Paris immediately after the concert.

Date created : 2009-07-19