DETROIT – Grammy-nominated artist Kid Rock told nearly 10,000 people at the Detroit NAACP branch’s annual fundraising center in Detroit that his use of the Confederate flag during on-stage performances has nothing to do with how he feels about blacks.

“I love America. I love Detroit, and I love black people,” the musician said Sunday night during the annual Fight for Freedom Fund dinner at Cobo Center.

Kid Rock, whose real name is Robert Ritchie, used the event to diffuse criticism aimed at the Detroit NAACP branch, which honored him with its Great Expectations Award.

The Macomb County, Mich., native said his use of the flag derives from a popular song by country music legends Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Earlier a group of about 60 people picketed outside Cobo Center in protest of the decision to honor Ritchie. The group also burned a replica of the flag, considered a symbol of racism and oppression to blacks in the South.

Detroit NAACP President Wendell Anthony said Ritchie was being honored for his advocacy of the city.

“We’re not lifting up the flag,” Anthony said earlier Sunday. “We’re lifting up a gentleman who has worked very hard to be a booster for Detroit.”

From the time it was first announced, the choice of Kid Rock as honoree has been criticized by some who said the use of the Confederate conflicts with the NAACP’s message.

“It stands for hatred, bigotry, racism, murder,” Detroit political consultant Adolph Mongo said. “Every bigot and racist in this country loves that flag.” Mongo helped ignite the flag about 5 p.m. It took several attempts before the flag caught fire to chants of, “Burn, baby, burn.”

But Ritchie, who appeared at the event with his son, received a loud applause when he was introduced and again when he stood to accept the award.

He announced $50,000 in donations from his foundation to Detroit recreation centers, a conservancy on the city’s Belle Isle, a youth theater group and Habitat for Humanity.

Ritchie also announced that his foundation would be donating $50,000 to storm relief efforts in tornado-ravaged states.

Whoopi keeps it funny in promo for ‘Sister Act’

VIENNA – Whoopi Goldberg is in Austria to promote the musical version of “Sister Act,” with her trademark slapstick humor.

She slipped off her high-heeled sandals at Vienna’s Ronacher Theater on Friday when she realized she would have to stand during a media preview of the musical, which opens there in September.

“I thought I was going to look good coming in and sitting down,” Goldberg told a laughing audience.

She stood in her white socks until Vienna’s cultural affairs official, Andreas Mailath-Pokorny, came on to give her a gift. “Hold on, hold on. I’m going to put them back on ’cause you’re too tall for me,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg starred in the 1992 movie version of “Sister Act.”

Casino magnate ties knot

LAS VEGAS – Casino billionaire Steve Wynn has officially gotten married to his fiancee, Andrea Hissom.

Wynn Resorts confirms that the company’s chairman and chief executive officer married Hissom on Saturday at a private gathering of 500 friends and family at the Wynn Las Vegas.

A statement released late Saturday afternoon says the two “celebrated their nuptials” at the resort on the Las Vegas Strip, but it didn’t provide any details.

Donald Trump was among the guests who arrived in Las Vegas earlier in the week. Wynn had told reporters that actor and director Clint Eastwood would serve as his best man.