Grammy-nominated artist Kid Rock told about 10 000 people at the Detroit NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) branch’s annual fundraiser that his use of the Confederate flag during performances has nothing to do with how he feels about black people.

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

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

The Michigan native said his use of the flag derived from a popular song by country music legends Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Earlier, a group of about 60 people picketed outside the centre in protest of the decision to honour Ritchie. The group also burnt a replica of the flag, considered a symbol of racism and oppression of black people in the South.

Detroit NAACP president Wendell Anthony said Ritchie was being honoured for his advocacy of the city. “We’re not lifting up the flag. 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 honouree has been criticised by some who said the use of the Confederate flag conflicted 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 to ignite the flag.

But Ritchie received applause when he was introduced and again when he stood to accepted the award. – Sapa-AP