After the pop music industry took their turn memorializing Prince (remember Madonna’s version?), the artists that arguably were the most influenced by the Purple One finally got their chance to pay public tribute to their idol. The shadow he cast was so large that one tribute alone could never be enough. So at this year’s BET Awards, we got seven.
Dave Chappelle led off, wearing sunglasses inside and kicking off a celebration of “the rich legacy of this remarkable genius,” he said. He introduced the Roots, who backed frequent collaborators Erykah Badu and Bilal.
Badu tore up a Badu’d version of Sign O’ the Times deep cut “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” in a black beret, white fur, and leather pants. Bilal could barely keep his pants on, rolling around on the floor as he yelped high notes—as true to Prince’s spirit as any tribute we’ve seen so far.
Stevie Wonder and Tori Kelly did the Apollonia duet from Purple Rain, “Take Me With U,” with Stevie playing the tiniest keyboard we’ve ever seen. Jennifer Hudson took the honors of doing the title track, emerging with a somber expression in a white hood with as opening chords of the song played.
Maxwell started off with a track from his new album BlackSUMMERS’Night, before transitioning into “Nothing Compares 2 U,” with an update to the lyrics: “It’s been 7 hours and 66 days since you took your music away…I went to the record store, Apple, Spotify too, and they told me ‘Boy you’d better try to make some music, which you can’t do’—cause Prince is the truth!”
Janelle Monae rocked a medley that opened with 1999’s “Delirious” before sliding into “Kiss.” She added “Pop Life,” a sped-up “I Would Die 4 U” and a dance number. When it ended, she said ”I love you Prince,” and fell to her knees.
But it was his collaborator Sheila E that was tasked with the night’s big sendoff. She was supposed to be joined by #1 Prince devotee D’Angelo, but he was a late scratch from the bill. But she didn’t have to do it alone, joined by her band and Prince’s backup singers. She got 10 minutes to tear through a medley that changed directions as often as Prince’s career.
Starting in the 80s with Sign O’ The Times’ “Housequake,” she switched into 1984’s “Erotic City,” 1981’s “Let’s Work,” and “U Got the Look.” In the rest of her set, she squeezed in ”A Love Bizarre,” “The Glamorous Life,” and the instrumental track “Soul Salsa.” She rocked a purple guitar for “America.” She closed out with “Baby I’m a Star,” a dance with The Time’s Jerome Benton, and held a guitar in the air, crying, next to Prince’s ex-wife Mayte Garcia, as flower petals fell from the ceiling.