LOS ANGELES, June 27, (AP): A politically charged BET Awards delivered an exciting night of tributes for Prince and Muhammad Ali between calls for action over gun violence, civil rights and presidential politics. These are the top moments from Sunday’s awards show held at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
After BET dissed the Billboard Music Awards for their Prince tribute in May, the cable network lived up to that challenge by honoring Price in a show-long tribute.
The first of many performances was introduced by comedian Dave Chapelle, who said “that literally our hearts were broken” over the death of Prince on April 21.
Artists such as the Roots, Erykah Badu, Bilal, Maxwell, Stevie Wonder and more gave a multifaceted reflection on the late artist’s musical gifts.
Highlights included Bilal’s falsetto singing and his wild, rolling on the floor performance, Jennifer Hudson’s emotionally arresting rendition of “Purple Rain” with Wonder and Janelle Monae’s rocking medley and Prince-inspired outfits.
But BET ended on a high note when drummer Sheila E., Prince’s longtime friend, collaborator and onetime fiance, took the stage to close out the show. She wailed on the drums in between singing a medley of songs featuring a full band, with horn section and dancers that got the crowd dancing.
There was no subtlety to the political messages during this year’s award show with multiple references to the upcoming presidential election — none of them in favor of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
There was a very direct warning from Taraji P. Henson, who won the best actress award.
“For those who think, you know, ‘He’s really not going to win’ — think again,” Henson said during her acceptance speech. “We really need to pull together and turn this country around.”
Earlier co-host Tracee Ellis Ross urged people to vote and added, “Welcome to the White House, Hillary Clinton.”
Finally BET Chairman and CEO Debra Lee championed the recent Democratic sit-in on the House floor over gun control legislation and called for a stand against gun violence during upcoming local and national elections.
After a long night of political speech, actor and activist Jesse Williams delivered the night’s most powerful statement after receiving a humanitarian award honoring his work for equal rights.
Williams demanded an end to police violence against blacks, mentioning the names of several victims, and got a standing ovation.
“We know that police somehow manage to deescalate, de-arm and somehow not manage to kill white people every day,” Williams said. “So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country, or we will restructure their function in ours.”
But he also called out commercialization of black culture, armchair critics and “conditional freedom.”
When Beyonce’s dancers paraded down the BET Awards red carpet prior to the show, the rumors of an unannounced performance solidified.
A barefoot Beyonce in a fringed black outfit opened the awards show with her song “Freedom” in ankle deep water with dancers splashing around beside her, in a preview of her popular Formation World Tour.
n Video of the Year: Beyonce, “Formation”
n Best Male R&B/Pop Artist: Bryson Tiller
n Best Female R&B/Pop Artist: Beyonce
n Best Male Hip Hop Artist: Drake
n Best Female Hip Hop Artist: Nicki Minaj
n Best New Artist: Bryson Tiller
n Best Group: Drake and Future
n Best Collaboration: Rihanna featuring Drake, “Work”
n Best Gospel: Kirk Franklin
n Youngstars Award: Amandla Stenberg
n Coca-Cola Viewers’ Choice: Beyonce
n Centric Award: Beyonce, “Formation”
n Video Director of the Year: Director X
n Best Actor: Michael B. Jordan
n Best Actress: Taraji P. Henson
n Best Movie: “Straight Outta Compton”
n Sportswoman of the Year: Serena Williams
n Sportsman of the Year: Stephen Curry
n Humanitarian Award: Jesse Williams
n Lifetime Achievement: Samuel L. Jackson
n Best International Act, UK: Skepta
n Best International Act, Africa: Wizkid (Nigeria)