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Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder Pays Tribute to Universal’s Michele Anthony

Variety logo Variety 6/15/2017 Jem Aswad
© Provided by Variety

On Monday in New York, Universal Music Group EVP Michele Anthony was honored by the band that, as she puts it, has come to define her career: Pearl Jam. She began working with its members in the late 1980s as the attorney for Mother Love Bone, the group that evolved into Pearl Jam, and later as their label executive at both Sony Music and currently at Universal. The ceremony was a benefit for the United Jewish Appeal, which raises money for the organization and honors a different executive with its Music Visionary of the Year accolade.

To cap off the event, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Stone Gossard paid tribute to Anthony in the form of two songs and a long, very entertaining dedication from Vedder. His comments in full — lightly edited for clarity — are below.

“I’m surprised no one has mentioned Michele’s monochromatic fashion sense,” he laughed of the eternally black-clad Anthony. “She’s the woman in black — you’d be more likely to find a picture of Johnny Cash in something floral.

“There’s a cool thing that happens, it’s almost like a parlor trick, when someone meets Michele,” he continued. “After she leaves, they say, ‘Who was that? She was amazing.’ I say, ‘Well, she’s actually one of — if not the — most powerful woman in the music business.’ And they’re always surprised — she has such great energy and she’s such a real person. And then I think, ‘Why do I have to say that? It’s not about her being a woman. It’s like Sleater-Kinney — they’re not the greatest all-girl band, they’re the greatest band. But until there’s equality I think it does have to be said. I can’t wait for the day when we don’t have to say it [Applause] Personally, I think the woman part is just a benefit.”

Vedder then held up a ukulele. “So this here is a ukulele,” he said, “and this is an example of how supportive Michele is. I said ‘Michele, I have a record I wanna put out. It’s gonna be all ukulele songs.’ And she said [hesitantly], “Oh, great!” I pictured her hanging up the phone and saying ‘Motherf—er!’ — but she’s supportive, and I’m touring the world playing this little ukulele, it fits in the carry-on on the plane. So this song is a love song I wrote for my wife. I said, ‘Can I play it for Michele?’ and she said ‘For Michele Anthony? Absolutely!’ And the only other person she gave me permission to sing it to was Barack Obama.”

Vedder then performed “Without You,” and afterward was joined by Pearl Jam guitarist Gossard for “Daughter.”

He began with another dedication. “One of the reasons we still keep playing 25 or whatever years later is because of some of the sacrifices she’s made and her encouragement,” he said. “She has this talent of working with difficult artists. And I was thinking about that the other night and I thought, ‘Well, what does that mean? There’s a separation between difficult and different, and in those early times we were fortunate to have this steamroller of success. We did have an opportunity to do things in a way that we felt would be beneficial for us and for the listener and for even the industry, if they were able to break out of a certain mold or defined trench or concrete plan. But we couldn’t have done any of that, or even attempted any of it, without [her] support and intellect, and a captain to help us navigate a North Star to set our compass. Because at one point the compass started spinning and that was when the news was getting really good but — it was so good it was tough.

“I remember one day she came to where we were staying in this little hotel in Boulder, where was it? [He looked to Anthony in the crowd.] Oh, it was a Holiday Inn in Amherst? [Laughter] And before soundcheck we had a great talk, it was very supportive and it kind of reset some things mentally and allowed me to get back on track and really think about the art and writing and singing. And then we wrote this one in the bathroom, and then we played it on the bus late that night. The one thing about a Holiday Inn — the acoustics in the bathroom [are great]! (Laughter) And I thought about this: the thicker the towels are, it’s bad for the sound.(Laughter) But if not for you, were might not have survived these times and those times. So uh, there’s just so much to say, we’ll just sing a song. Thank you, Michele — my sister, our sister.”

At the end of a long and heartfelt speech, Anthony paid tribute to the band. “Thank you to my Pearl Jam family, to my dear Kelly [Curtis, longtime manager], my partner for 30 years. To Nicole [Vandenberg], who introduced us to Gloria [Steinem] and came into our world to strengthen our activism. To Stone, you set the example from the earliest days of Mother Love Bone with your work in music and activism, I love you and I’m so grateful that you’re here.

“And finally thank you to Pearl Jam. I wish that one day each of you in this room has the good fortune to have an artist enter your life who not only defines your career but also your humanity. ‘Music Visionary’ is a grandiose title — it really belongs to an artist and I’ve had the privilege to work with many great ones over the decades. But to me, Eddie Vedder is the artist who truly embodies it all. He has my heart. And I know Ed hates these kind of events and would rather stay in the background moving mountains. But as someone who’s had the honor of working with him and being his sister for over two-and-a-half decades, I can tell you he’s the kind of guys who shows up for people.

“He and Gloria taught me that work and activism are one,” she concluded. “Ed, for your work to help free the West Memphis 3, to your pro-choice and women’s rights fundraisers, your [Hurricane] Katrina and environmental activism, to protecting veterans’ rights — words can’t express how grateful I am that you are here today. I love you with all my heart.”

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