The floor of Midtown Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom was filled with a maze of couches arranged into a series of interlocking lounges reminiscent of a modern Roman banquet hall as 800 people came together the evening of May 1 to enjoy the music of a parade of big-name stars — Corinne Bailey Rae, Jill Scott, Jennifer Hudson, Christina Aguilera and the ultimate hostess of the night, Mary J. Blige.

This story first appeared in the May 11, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The music was upbeat and uplifting, befitting the reason for the gathering — to raise money for the Mary J. Blige and Steve Stoute Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now, an organization that provides education opportunities and scholarships for young women who otherwise wouldn’t see college without them. FFAWN was founded in 2007 by Blige and impresario Stoute. The organization, which supports an education and skill enhancement center in nearby Yonkers, now has a roster of 25 students on full scholarship.

Queen Latifah was the evening’s emcee, with help from Blige, Robbie Myers of Elle magazine and Stoute. Stoute said he figures that as a result of the event, FFAWN will be able to raise $1 million, considering the lineup of corporate sponsors — including Estée Lauder; Gucci; Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Foundation, which decorated the hall; Coca-Cola, State Farm; McDonald’s, and HSN.

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An emotional moment came early in the program when a letter was read by Destiny Williams, one of the scholarship recipients, who described how FFAWN not only reached out and gave her the unexpected chance to go to college, but also provided emotional support after her mother was murdered and she was left to discover the body. “It is one of the few organizations that does not turn its back on women in need,” Williams’ letter concluded.

The evening culminated on a personal note for Blige, who explained that she doubts she ever would have gotten her start in music without being inspired by the Anita Baker song “Rapture.” Baker then came onto the stage and the pair sang — what else — “Rapture” and, of course, they did it together.

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