London Rocks for Nelson Mandela

Amy Winehouse sings, Will Smith hosts to celebrate world icon's 90th birthday.

LONDON, June 28, 2008 -- Singer Amy Winehouse was among the more than 30 world's leading performers who paid tribute to Nelson Mandela at a birthday concert in London's Hyde Park on Friday night.

Mandela, who will turn 90 on July 18, was honored with a celebration that included Leona Lewis and Josh Groban, as well as longtime legends Annie Lenox, Joan Baez and Queen.

The event was sponsored by the 46664 charity, an HIV/AIDS awareness organization launched five years ago by Mandela, whose son died of AIDS in 2005. 46664, pronounced "four, double six, six, four," is named after Mandela's prison number at Robben Island in South Africa, where he was jailed in 1964 for 27 years for leading the liberation movement against apartheid.

Will Smith hosted the event — a four-hour parade of performances by artists from all over the world — that included the Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir from South Africa and Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier from Sudan, who was introduced by Peter Gabriel as an artist with the "potential of Bob Marley."

Pre-recorded birthday messages to Mandela, warmly referred to by his nickname, "Madiba," were played throughout the night from such diverse stars as Victoria and David Beckham, Susan Sarandon and Morgan Freeman. U2's Bono and The Edge called for a public holiday to celebrate Mandela and sang "Happy Birthday" through a video feed.

The concertgoers were as diverse as the performers: from white-haired couples swaying side-to-side, to children cheering from the tops of shoulders. Tickets — exactly 46,664 — went for approximately $128 each and all proceeds will be donated to the 46664 organization.

But that didn't stop thousands from sitting on picnic blankets just outside the 12-foot barricades on Hyde Park's lawn to hear the music and see the tips of the South African flags being waved in the air by the "inside" crowd.

The highly anticipated performance by Winehouse, who was released from a hospital earlier this week after being diagnosed with early stages of emphysema, elicited a wave of cheers when she took to the stage to perform her Grammy Award-winning, "Rehab" and "Valerie."

Even a desperate young woman abandoned her place in line for the toilets to rush to the stage to hear Winehouse perform, and a group of security guards couldn't help but smile as they angled to get a better view of the artist themselves.

But the loudest cheers erupted at 8:30 p.m. when Mandela appeared on stage. The audience chanted "Nelson, Nelson" in unison as Mandela, holding a cane in his right-hand and the shoulder of his wife, Graça Machel, in the other, stepped out slowly onto the stage.

"Even as we celebrate, let us remember that our work is far from complete. There is more work to be done. Our work is for freedom for all," Mandela said.

"After nearly 90 years, it is time for new hands to lift the burden. It is in your hands now," he added, referring to 46664's motto, "It's in Your Hands."

After speaking to the crowd, Mandela was escorted to the top section of the VIP bleachers, where he watched the concert and chatted with U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The night was a celebration for all, but it had special meaning for Jobu Sibeko, a 40-year-old social worker from South Africa who remembers dancing in the streets the day Mandela was released from prison.

"I am here for Mandela, Mandela Mandela! This man has made huge changes and continues to do good work for the people of South Africa," Sibeko said.

Sibeko's friend, 37-year-old Khosei Madlala, also from South Africa, exclaimed, "We wouldn't be here, in this world, if it wasn't for him. He has made our dreams come true."

Tim Jebb, a 27-year-old from Ireland, who traveled to London for the concert, said he was impressed by the performances, but he wasn't there for the star-studded lineup.

"The music is fantastic, but I'm really here for Mandela. It wouldn't have mattered who was performing really, I am here to honor Madiba."

The concert capped off a week of activities for Mandela, including a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II and a fundraising dinner on Wednesday attended by guests such as Oprah Winfrey, Elton John, and Bill and Chelsea Clinton. It was at the dinner that Mandela spoke out against the situation in Zimbabwe, saying there had been a "tragic failure of leadership" in the country.

At 9:30 p.m., just after Winehouse performed, Mandela carefully stepped from the top row of the bleachers into a small white elevator, which had been constructed specifically to shuttle him up and down from his seat. Just before stepping into the car, which was waiting for him at the door of the elevator, he took one long look at the crowd of people that had quickly gathered, smiled his characteristically wide grin, and waved goodbye.