Rhythm and Blues singer Gladys Knight, formerly of Gladys Knight and the Pips, will perform at The University of St. Thomas’ 70th Mardi Gras Gala on Feb. 22.
According to Director of Marketing and Communication Jeff Olsen, the University wanted a performer with a “big name” to gain more publicity.
“The bigger and more sensational [the gala] is, the more people know about it and will come next year,” Olsen said. “We want Houston to know we care about our students.”
Director of University Events Muffy Buvens, meanwhile, said organizers intended Knight’s performance to “unite the seven decades of UST alumni” expected to be in attendance.
As of Feb. 12, the University had already made over $1 million in ticket sales and donations Olsen wrote in an email to the Independent.
Olsen said Knight’s presence will make this year’s fundraiser “bigger” than those of past years.
Some UST alumni on the Facebook page Concerned UST Alumni have questioned how UST can afford a high-paid celebrity act while undergoing a massive restructure to overcome its $8 million budget deficit.
However, Olsen clarified that the University’s operating funds do not pay for the performance and gala. He said all the money that is spent on Mardi Gras comes from the event itself, which includes money made before and during the event via ticket sales, sponsorship and donations.
Aside from covering the cost of the event, “all of the funds made will go to the St. Thomas Fund,” an annual giving program benefiting UST student scholarship recipients he said.
Olsen declined to reveal the amount Knight is being paid.
Nonetheless, he said UST’s annual gala has always been a “glitzy” affair, and used to be open to the public when UST was smaller. The University’s first UST Mardi Gras, held in 1950, was attended by 15,000 people–among them celebrities Bob Hope and Debbie Reynolds.
“To get there [again] we need people to know about it,” Olsen said. “We need Houston to be talking about it. We want it to be a big ticket.”
The gala will be held at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston at 6:30 p.m. Tickets can be bought here.