The 25th annual Pops on the Heights gala, held Friday night, raised a record $14 million for scholarships at Boston College, smashing last year’s record-setting $9 million and putting the total raised by the event since 1993 at just under $60 million.
Co-chaired by David, BC ’86, and Maureen O’Connor and Phil Schiller, BC ’82, and Kim Gassett-Schiller, the gala pulled out all the stops, stars, and spirit, with the President’s Medal of Excellence going to film composer John Williams and a stunning performance by singer and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson. Chris O’Donnell, BC ’92, also made an appearance, presenting the medal to Williams. Since he graduated, O’Donnell has gone on to act in many movies and TV shows, including NCIS: Los Angeles, Batman and Robin, and Scent of a Woman.
Williams, who conducted the Pops at the first gala 24 years ago, got several standing ovations throughout the night, and at one point got on stage to conduct the Star Wars theme.
“Pops [on the Heights] is like Star Wars,” Williams said. “When we first did it, we had no idea there’d be a second.”
The concert began with Keith Lockhart conducting for the Boston Pops, accompanied by the Boston College University Chorale during the opening number, Beethoven’s “Hallelujah,” followed by “‘S Wonderful” by George Gershwin. The plastic bracelets that were given out earlier and adorned every wrist in Conte Forum began to light up in coordination with the music. They twinkled and shone, matching the screens above the orchestra, which displayed a starry night over BC. As a tribute to Williams, the Pops played a mashup of some of his best works, including the theme songs from Superman and E.T. Up on the screens, a montage of scenes from the movies played as the music flowed from one song to the next. On the screens, the audience watched the shadow of Elliot and E.T. flying on their bike over BC’s very own Gasson Hall.
At one point in the show, a New Orleans brass band filtered onto the stage through the audience and donor tables, playing a loud and cheerful rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching in.” Lockhart said they chose this song as a tribute to Jim Cleary, who got the idea for Pops on the Heights. The audience was excited to hear the Boston College student performer, Chris Cheeseman, CSOM ’20. The sophomore from Montvale, N.J., sang “The Impossible Dream,” from the 1965 Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. His powerful voice echoed throughout the arena, capturing every heart in the room.
After an intermission, the Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes and Drums marched through the crowd performing Doodletown Fifers (Yankee Doodle). Everyone was clapping and on their feet, as it was an unexpected, loud, and upbeat turnaround from the Williams’ orchestration.
The special guest of the night was Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson, accompanied by the Pops.
“I see you came to celebrate!,” she exclaimed as she entered onto the stage. The crowd cheered, because anyone would celebrate the outstandingly successful event, all in the name of philanthropy. Hudson’s vocals blew the crowd away, especially on “Hallelujah,” which was originally sung by Leonard Cohen.
She also sang a number of her own hits, including “Spotlight” and “One Night Only.” As she sang her 2014 hit “It’s Your World,” the audience glittered in neon pink and blue lights. The song slowly morphed into a cover of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” during which she walked through the donor tables, dancing with anyone in her path, from little girls in their best dresses to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, WCAS ’09, and University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., and everyone in between.
This was probably the first time the Boston Pops had to play “Uptown Funk,” but it was obvious they were having a good time as well. She ended her set with a rousing performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” made famous in the movie Dreamgirls, her film debut, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
In a moment that quickly went viral online, Hudson brought Diamani Clifton, MCAS ’18, on stage for the performance. Clifton threw a shoe at Hudson, apparently out of disbelief at her performance.
“I wouldn’t be here if not for this song,” she said.
Featured Image by Tiger Tao / Heights Contributor
Embedded Image by Justin Knight / University Communications