Five days after reporting he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in Chicago, Jussie Smollett performed in front of a sold-out and very supportive crowd Saturday at the Troubadour in West Hollywood.
Fans waited in the rain to listen to the Empire star, who opened his set by explaining why he decided to play after the Jan. 29 incident that generated widespread attention for the gay actor-singer. “I had to be here tonight y’all,” he told the audience. “I couldn’t let those mother f–kers win.”
Smollett also fought back tears as he admitted he wasn’t “fully healed.” But he’s on his way, he added. He was accompanied at the concert by his siblings, including brother Jocqui, who told the crowd that “my family realized that tonight was an important part of Jussie’s healing…. on behalf of the Smollett family, we are so proud of our brother.”
Backed by singers and a keyboardist, Smollett performed “Freedom,” the first track from last year’s debut album Sum of My Music, along with “No Doubt About It,” “Conqueror,” “Good Enough” “You’re So Beautiful,” and “Heavy” from his Fox series about a fictitious record label and the family that runs it. “This song has new meaning to me,” he said of the latter tune.
Smollett plays Jamal Lyon in Empire, which is currently in its fifth season on Fox.
Empire creator Lee Daniels was among the 400 or so in attendance, along with U.S. Rep Maxine Waters and actor Wilson Cruz (My So-Called Life). There was a scheduled meet and greet for special ticket holders but it was reportedly canceled due to security concerns. But the spirited Smollett still tried to accommodate his enthusiastic fans, one of whom stood in the front row with some copies of the Empire soundtrack.
“I’ll sign them I promise!” said Smollett, who was dressed in a simple white shirt and black pants.
“The hateful rhetoric that gets thrown around, I’m not gonna name names, it has to stop!” Smollett said during his performance. “But it stops with people who believe in love. Take love back because that’s all that we have … These last few days I couldn’t have gotten through without the love of my family and the love of y’all.”
Smollett ended his performance by saying he wanted to clear up a few points. He said he “was bruised but my ribs were not cracked. They were not broken.” He went to the doctor immediately after the incident, but was not hospitalized. Doctors in Chicago and Los Angeles also cleared him to perform.
“And above all I fought the f— back!” he said, as the crowd cheered. “I’m the gay Tupac!”
In the early hours of Jan. 29, Smollett was walking in Chicago when two alleged offenders reportedly approached him yelling racial and homophobic slurs. According to a police report, the two unknown suspects attacked him, poured an unknown chemical substance on him, and wrapped a rope around his neck. After allegedly yelling “this is MAGA country,” the offenders fled the scene.
The police have since released video surveillance images of “persons of interest” in the case but there have been no arrests.
On Friday, Smollett made his first public comment. “Let me start by saying that I’m OK. My body is strong but my soul is stronger. More importantly, I want to say thank you. The outpouring of love and support from my village has meant more than I will ever be able to truly put into words.”
Halle Berry, Barry Jenkins, and Ariana Grande were among those who expressed outrage on social media about Smollett’s incident.
Tim Stack contributed to this report.