Woodstock Music Icon Michael Lang Honored with the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards Lifetime Achievement Award

Posted on Sep 27, 2019

Best known for co-producing and creating the original 1969 Woodstock Festival, Michael Lang received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the seventh annual Muhammed Ali Humanitarian Awards on September 12th.

In 1969, the original Woodstock Festival brought together half a million people in a celebration of peace, music and love. Woodstock continues to highlight social, environmental and political causes like Head Count; to organize communities around those causes; to develop socially responsible events and products for those communities; and to encourage positive, creative expression.

The purpose of the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards, an annual fundraiser for the Muhammad Ali Center, is to harness the power of the late Muhammad Ali’s legacy by recognizing individuals who are driven by a call to action to effect positive change in the world and to encourage young people worldwide to have the courage to become actively involved in social justice issues that are impacting their communities and their countries.

“Ali elevated the concept of rock star to another universe altogether, just because of who he was and how he lived his life,” Michael shared in his acceptance speech. “Over the course of the decades, Ali’s moral authority grew.  Instead of being disdained for his actions he became admired and ultimately beloved worldwide. His integrity was held in awe and his journey and its’ outcome became the stuff of legends, teaching, and inspiring others.  Towards the end of his life, his humility, humanity and vulnerability became a role model for people everywhere.”

Lang considered Ali to be a true model of courage, power, and righteousness. See full speech below:

“Good evening everyone. A special hello to Mr. Ali’s family, all the other honorees, the staff of the Ali Center. And you who are continuing Muhammad Ali’s remarkable work.  To be honest, I cannot believe I am on stage receiving this honor in the reflected light of Muhammad Ali. I have known many rock stars over my years in music, and the man who shined brighter than any other rock star then or now was of course, the greatest of all, Muhammad Ali. 

Many of you may not recall that Ali actually earned a Grammy nomination for his 1976 record titled “Ali and his Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay” urging kids not to eat sugar! Even more unbelievable were the guests joining him: Frank Sinatra, Richie Havens, Ossie Davis and Howard Cosell amongst others.

Talking about “Mr. Tooth Decay,” early on I was helping Leon Gast organize the footage of what would become his academy award-winning film “WHEN WE WERE KINGS”.

We were screening footage from Kinshasa and there was a scene with Ali and some of his friends at a table on the hotel patio discussing the “Mr. Tooth Decay” idea … as he is speaking Ali’s putting spoon after spoon after spoon of sugar into his coffee…

Ali elevated the concept of rock star to another universe altogether, just because of who he was and how he LIVED HIS LIFE. In those days he was literally the most recognized man on the planet.

Fortunately for me, I did meet him once.  It was 1970 at Madison Square Garden in New York City – Ali would’ve been 28 … I was, 25, only a year after Woodstock, and I was with the legendary Sly Stone. I will never forget the impression ALI made on me. Call it an aura, an energy, or a presence, he was unlike any other person I’d ever met.

When I think of Ali now there are two qualities that stand out, that too rarely reside together in one person.  Those are power and righteousness. 

From the beginning his moral compass and ethical stand dictated his actions.  Young men, fearful of going to their mailbox on any day and finding a “Greetings letter“ with their name and draft number on it, found in Ali a  real hero  and a true champion.  Ali, like many of us, did not see any sense in going to Viet Nam to kill people he had nothing against and he had the courage to bear the consequences of his convictions.

As he stood in the government crosshairs, Ali used his personal power and resolve in the service of promoting peace. 

Throughout the whirlwind and tumult surrounding him, Ali remained playful while holding steady to his principles.  No one had seen anyone like this before.

Hated at first by much of the mainstream, Ali showed every person what it meant to be a human being who believed in something greater than himself.  And as we all know, Ali gave up everything he fought for literally, to say I won’t kill strangers.

Over the course of the decades, Ali’s moral authority grew. Instead of being disdained for his actions he became admired and ultimately beloved worldwide.  His integrity was held in awe and his journey and its’ outcome became the stuff of legend, teaching and inspiring others. Towards the end of his life, his humility, humanity and vulnerability became a role model for people everywhere.

I think if Mr. Ali were here with us today, he might rhyme that only together and with love, can   we change this world for the better. 

But we have to earn it, we have to show up and fight for the issues we believe in, the way Ali would. 

The fight against global warming as we near that point of no return…

Sensible gun control, Immigration reform, Whatever your opinions,

I know Muhammad Ali would tell you to make your voices heard and encourage everyone to get out and vote this year AND in 2020.

Thank you.