The 2016 BET Awards tweeted a bit of smack leading up to its telecast Sunday night.
But it lived up to its own hype, if only because the number of tributes to the Purple One gave it more chances to get it right-er. They used a case of tributes, rather than a single for the live broadcast over more than five networks.
Standouts included a jam session from a shoe-less Sheila E., who ran through fantastic songs from "Housequake" to "Glamorous Life," and ending with her standing proudly in tears beside Prince's ex-wife, Mayte Garcia. She also ran from percussion to to vocals to guitar in a display of the musicianship that Prince surrounded himself with; D'Angelo was supposed to be included in this party, but he was nowhere to be heard.
Dallasite Erykah Badu, with the Roots as the backing band, sang "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker." Sublime. One can only hope she'll add it to her set lists in the future.
In the year of our Prince's death, there were obviously going to be myriad tributes throughout the different awards show. But this was probably the one for which everyone was waiting. The show had a practice run when it paid tribute to Prince years ago, when he won its lifetime achievement award.
The Billboard Music Awards show was first out of the gate, though, and its tribute featuring Madonna and Stevie Wonder wasn't well-received in some quarters. (Shouldn't we be happy that someone loved Prince enough to perform what would be a hard tribute, especially if you counted yourself among his friends? But I digress.) Soon after it aired, BET squared up and released a by all accounts shade-filled promo for its awards show with the tagline, "Yeah, we saw that. Don't worry. We got you."
Tributes featured Maxwell with updated lyrics on "Nothing Compares 2 U"; Stevie Wonder and Tori Kelly with "Take Me With U"; and Bilal, with a floor-sweeping version of "The Beautiful Ones." Jennifer Hudson sang a blistering version of "Purple Rain," with Wonder on keyboards. Janelle Monae parted with her usual aesthetic and sang admirable covers of "Kiss," "Pop Life" and "I Would Die 4 U."
The show may have been Prince-focused, but actorvist Jesse Williams stole some thunder with his industrial-strength speech after he was awarded the Humanitarian Award. Samuel L. Jackson received the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by director Spike Lee.
Other gems: The cast of the network's upcoming biopic about New Edition, including Bryshere Y. Gray (Empire), Wood Harris (The Wire) and Elijah Kelley (Hairspray), were presenters. If half of the battle is in casting correctly, this could be considered a win. Laila Ali, the youngest daughter of Muhammad Ali, thanked everyone for the tributes to her father. And hosts Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross paid tribute to Broadway smash Hamilton, bringing out R&B singer Anthony Hamilton for good measure.
And surprise! Beyonce opened the show with an assist from Kendrick Lamar. Perhaps they all took momentum from the performance of "Freedom," in which the stage was submersed in water as it is during concerts on the going-strong Formation Tour. The dancers marched to the stage to the tune of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech over a cadence.
Speaking of that tour, Beyonce didn't stick around. Her mother, Tina Knowles-Lawson, who accepted a couple of awards for her, said she had to catch a flight to her concert that night in London. Her presence was still felt: Beyonce teenage signees Chloe and Halle, who are sisters, performed ably in her absence, delivering "Drop" on unsuspecting viewers.
Click this link for a complete list of winners and a treasure trove of goodies.