Blondie Rocks the Kidney Ball

by John Arundel

Debbie Harry. Photo by Michael Domingo

Debbie Harry. Photo by Michael Domingo

A raucous and truly memorable evening, which by the end had raised $1.15 million for the National Kidney Foundation’s National Capital Region.

The Kidney Foundation’s Division President Preston A. Englert, Jr. welcomed attendees to the Washington Life-sponsored gala and recognized several special guests, including former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, an organ donor, opera diva Denyce Graves, and William Couper, President of Bank of America Mid Atlantic and chair of the 2009 Kidney Ball.

“The Kidney Ball has evolved into one of the biggest charity fundraisers in the DC area,” Couper said. “This area leads the nation in the prevalence of kidney disease. Since 1999, the Foundation has screened nearly 20,000 people at risk for kidney disease and its leading causes, diabetes and hypertension. Through its early detection initiatives, the foundation has found that 90 percent of those screened had at least one abnormal test result, validating the importance of those initiatives.”

Dinner included a heart-friendly goat cheese salad, beef tenderloin and curry shrimp with bacon and cheddar risotto, and a warm apple spice cupcake a la mode for dessert.

After dinner, Englert awarded the 2009 Outstanding Achievement Award to Eagle Bank Chairman Ronald D. Paul of the Ronald D. Paul Companies for his “generous, dedicated and passionate” support of the Kidney Foundation.

Mr. Paul has received two kidney transplants and has used his experience to help others. He founded the Kidney Walk in 2002, which helped raised $1 million, and matches dollar for dollar many donations and sponsorships. “Ron is highly deserving of this award as he has been a valuable leader and source of encouragement to thousands of kidney patients,” Englert said.

The auction featured highlights like a golden retriever pup which fetched $1,100 from a bidder who named the pup “Ronnie,” in honor of Mr. Paul. Other auction features included a three-night Hawaiian getaway ($3,500), a 2010 Mercedes-Benz E350W (which failed to meet reserve), and a personally signed home base from Washington National’s center fielder Nyjer Morgan, along with four Diamond Club tickets to a home game ($1,600).

By the time WTOP’s “Man About Town” Bob Madigan strolled onto stage to introduce Rock and Roll Hall of Famer “Blondie” at Saturday’s 29th Annual Kidney Ball, the black-tie crowd had already been fired up for hours.

The open bar, silent and live auctions and sumptuous three-course meal pump primed the Kidney donors for the main course: A 50-minute private concert by the quintessentially American rock band founded more than three decades ago by singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein.

A pioneer in the early American new wave and punk rock scenes of the mid-70’s, the 54-year-old singer songwriter and former Playboy Bunny looked coquettish with her two-toned streaked blonde hair and simply fetching in her Zebra print miniskirt with red bodice, shark tooth necklace, nylons and flashy red flats. The zebra-checkered outfit looked like something she’d picked up that morning at a thrift shop in Soho, but it worked.

Harry’s lead persona of cool sexuality, creative dress and streetwise attitude have clearly helped the band sell some vinyl along the way; about 40 million records sold worldwide over a long ad varied career. Her concerts still sell out in Europe, Australia and Japan, while fans in the US seek her out at casino headliner performances and high-end galas and corporate events.

“Hello, Washington, it’s me, Deb,” she announced, playfully. “You know, when I woke up this morning I had the realization that I was on my way to the Nation’s Capital to help do some real good..So hello, Kidney Foundation people…We love you all for being here, for supporting the cause.”

The act and persona have definitely cooled off since the molten-lava days of New York halcyon and hanging out with Andy Warhol at Studio 54; Harry no longer cusses at the crowd or shakes her middle finger at them. On Saturday night she was Blondie refined, 2.0 edition, giving the crowd what they came for, hit after senseless hit of ’80s lyrics featuring cars, bars, romantic beaches and space aliens which eat your head.

As a nod to her long-ago days as a waitress at Max’s Kansas City cafe, and a donut-and-coffee server at Dunkin’ Donuts, she even poured her own drink onstage, before launching into spirited renditions of the hits which catapaulted her to commercial success, with strong performances of “Heart of Glass,” “Rapture,” “Call me” and “The Tide is High,” the Kidney Ball’s theme of the evening.

All in all, an eclectic mix of musical styles incorporating elements of disco, pop and reggae, while retaining Harry’s basic imprint as the new wave band of 80s. In 1982, Harry took a long break to care for her partner Stein, who had developed a life-threatening illness.

Perhaps the experience made her all the more appreciative of the kidney patients and their families, who waited patiently backstage with sponsors for arranged photos and autographs with the pop icon.

Washington Life research assistant Caroline Bal contributed to reporting.

KIDNEY DONORS: Carleton Jones, Debbie Ikirt, Jim Duffey, James Conley, William Boyan, Jim Ballard, Steve Kahn, Lynn Smiroldo, Thomas McDonough, Dave Birkman, Mark Birns, Sarah L. Cave.

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