Tom Hanks Hosts An All-Star Special Celebrating Smithsonian’s New African American Museum

ABC is celebrating the opening of the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture with an all-star special airing Thursday, January 12 at 9 p.m. Hosted by Tom Hanks, Taking the Stage: African American Music and Stories That Changed America is a two-hour special featuring music, dance and the spoken word. The concept of the special is to celebrate America “as seen through the prism of African American culture” states the ABC press release.

“ABC is thrilled to celebrate the opening of this important new addition to the Smithsonian Institution and to help share the story of the struggles, contributions, and triumphs of African Americans throughout the history of our country, “said Channing Dungey, president ABC Entertainment.

John Legend performing for ABC's "Taking the Stage" special.
Stevie Wonder performing for ABC's "Taking the Stage" special. [Image by Fred Watkins/ABC]

If Tom Hanks seems like an odd choice to host a special honoring black Americans, Hanks agrees with you. “I kept saying, ‘Why me? Are you sure you want me there?'” Hanks told ABC about the special. “I’m here by invitation. I’m honored to have gotten and thrilled to have accept it.”

The long list of celebrities making appearances during the special include: Patti Austin, Christina Aguilera, Alvin Ailey Dancers, Angela Bassett, Jon Batiste, Mary J. Blige, Shirley Caesar, Dave Chappelle, Chloe x Halle, Chuck D., Gary Clark Jr., Common, Doug E. Fresh, Cynthia Erivo, Fantasia, Jamie Foxx, Robert Glasper, Savion Glover, Dave Grohl with Trouble Funk, Herbie Hancock, Samuel L. Jackson, Quincy Jones, Rashida Jones, Elijah Kelley, Gladys Knight, John Legend, Mary Mary, Donnie McClurkin, Janelle Monae, NeYo, Jada Pickett Smith, Will Smith, Octavia Spencer, Chris Tucker, Usher, Jesse Williams, Oprah Winfrey and Stevie Wonder.

“You’re gonna see an awful lot of stuff out there on that stage,” says Hanks about the TV special and then reminiscing about his own life, “I’m going to say somewhere in my lifetime [soul music] became part of the mainstream … like say for example, the R&B charts. I remember when I was growing up in Oakland, California we had KDIA Lucky 13. It was a soul station you know. We’d just listen to that for soul music. Well now, you listen to any radio station and you getting an awful lot of soul music, so I think what you’re getting is just how grand the contribution of African Americans has been to every aspect of our lives.”

The special was filmed last fall one day before the African American History and Culture museum opened its doors for the first time on September 24, 2016.

“The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place where visitors can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped shape the nation and the world,” says Lonnie G. Bunch III, the museum’s founding director. “The African American experience is the lens through which we understand what it is to be an American.”

NE-YO performing for ABC's "Taking the Stage" special. [Image by Fred Watkins/ABC]

The special honors world-renowned dignitaries, athletes and artists who came together at Washington’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the special presentation. In addition to special performances, the ABC special also features new film footage of some of the iconic items waiting to be seen at the museum.

The Smithsonian’s 19th 400,000-square-foot museum stands near the Washington Monument in Washington D.C., holds over 36,000 artifacts in 12 galleries and has about 100,000 charter members. Among the items that can be seen in the museum include a training plane for the Tuskegee airmen of World War II and a bible once owned by Nat Turner.

John Legend performing for ABC's "Taking the Stage" special. [Image by Fred Watkins/ABC]

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The African American museum has seen almost 750,000 guests in the three months since it opened according to the Washington Post. It has been extremely popular with same-day passes (which are available on weekday mornings starting at 6:30 a.m.) selling out within minutes. In December, the museum made a change by releasing advance passes in one-month increments. They too sell out quickly. Passes for May will be available at 9 a.m. on February 1.

[Featured Image by Ida Mae Astute/ABC]