Anti-apartheid icon and former South African President Nelson Mandela, celebrated his 91st birthday with the launch of a special day for good deeds and a star-studded tribute concert in New York City. The events are part of a week-long tribute to the Nobel Peace laureate's efforts to promote volunteer work and community activism.
The concert at Radio City Music Hall drew thousands of Nelson Mandela supporters as well as pop stars and actors. Among them: Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Stevie Wonder and French first lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy, a model and singer who performed publicly for the first time since marrying French President Nicolas Sarkozy last year.
The concert helped launch the first-ever Mandela Day, which includes a special exhibit running in New York through July. The exhibit chronicles Mr. Mandela's life and his fight against apartheid through six words - act, listen, lead, unite, learn and speak.
Mr. Mandela, who is unable to travel, did not attend any of the events. But he thanked well wishers during the concert through a videotaped message.
"Our struggle for freedom and justice was a collective effort. Mandela Day is no different. It is our hope that people will dedicate their time and effort to improve the conditions within their own community," he said.
The event is co-sponsored by Mr. Mandela's AIDS organization "46664", the named derived from Mr. Mandela's prison number during his 27-year incarceration. The concert helped kick-off the first-ever Mandela Day worldwide.
The day is dedicated to promoting service and volunteer work based on the premise that small, positive actions by each individual can lead to large, lasting change. President Barack Obama, a strong advocate of social service, sent a message of support, calling Mr. Mandela "an extraordinary man."
"The story of his life can be summed up in Nelson Mandela's own words, 'It always seems impossible until it is done,'" Mr. Obama said.
The concert at Radio City Music Hall brought together American stars with some of Africa's biggest musicians, including Angelique Kidjo and Baaba Maal. The Soweto Gospel Choir provided background vocals for just about everyone that took the stage.
Collaborations were frequent and creative, like the duet by Alicia Keys and Angelique Kidjo in a song called "Afrika." Performers debuted new works, some with messages of global concern. Rapper Wyclef Jean sang about genocide in Rwanda.
Mr. Mandela's call for volunteerism was expressed in the theme song With My Own Two Hands. The song was written by musician Ben Harper and performed by South African singer Chris Chameleon, and Senegalese pop-star Baaba Maal.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his fight against South Africa's apartheid. Released from prison in 1990, he was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994.