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Erykah Badu, Roy Ayers, others to honor Tupac on 40th

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A group of diverse artists will come together Thursday in Atlanta to play a benefit concert on what would have been rapper Tupac Shakur’s 40th birthday.

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Shakur was 25 when he was killed in Las Vegas in 1996.

The concert, which features Erykah Badu, Roy Ayers, Too Short and others, will raise funds for the Stone Mountain-based Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation for the Arts, which helps students develop their skill in the creative arts.

The famed vibraphone player Ayers, who recently released a new album, “King of the Vibes,” said he was excited to participate.

“We’re celebrating Tupac’s birthday, which I thought was very nice,” said Ayers, 70, in a telephone interview from his home in New York. “He [Tupac] sampled my music in the past, as many rappers and hip-hoppers have done.”

Ayers plans to play at least one song from his latest CD, which was released on his own label, and several of his standards, including “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”

On his recent project, Ayers includes a song called “Obama Say.”

“I sing that Obama is a person who is interested in making America wonderful for everyone, whether they’re rich or poor. … The Republicans are ignoring all that Obama is trying to do.”

Ayers, who worries that jazz and neo-soul artists don’t get much airplay, said, “I’m interested in people hearing and knowing who I am.”

There aren’t that many jazz stations anymore, he said. And many such artists have independent promotions people who may lack the clout to get songs on the air.

He was recently in discussions to do a project with Gil Scott-Heron, who died last month at 62. Scott-Heron was widely considered one of the godfathers of rap.

“I’m so sad about that,” said Ayers, who had known Scott-Heron for decades. “He was such a great artist.”

Ayers, who was influenced at an early age by jazz musician Lionel Hampton, counts his blessings to still be active on the music scene.

“I’m doing well and I’m very thankful to God,” said Ayers.

Event preview

Erykah Badu, Roy Ayers, Too Short and others. 8 p.m. Thursday. $45-$150, excluding fees and taxes. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree Street N.E., Atlanta. 16thofjune.com, woodruffcenter.org.

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