BET celebrated its 40th year as a network, and its 20th awards show, with the powerful 2020 BET Awards on Sunday.
Hosted by “Insecure” star Amanda Seales, the show was presented virtually for the first time due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But that did not dampen the voices in the first major awards show since George Floyd died May 25 while in Minneapolis police custody, which has led to continued nationwide protests and sustained calls for social change.
Here are the five biggest moments from the awards program, which honored Floyd’s memory, Black Lives Matter, Beyoncé’s humanitarian work and Kobe Bryant’s legendary basketball skills.
Michelle Obama: Pays tribute to Beyoncé, presenting BET Humanitarian Award to ‘The Queen’
George Floyd, Black Lives Matter tributes reigned
The tributes to Black Lives Matter, Floyd and other victims of police brutality were frequent in the awards program, including a new video from “The Voice” judge John Legend, “Never Change.”
Rapper DaBaby performed “Rockstar” with an actor portraying a police officer pressing his knee on DaBaby’s neck, replicating the last few moments of Floyd’s life. Roddy Ricch, whose “Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial” won album of the year, wore a Black Lives Matter shirt while performing “High Fashion” and “The Box.”
Alicia Keyes sang an emotional “Perfect Way to Die,” with the lyrics, “Think of all you could have done, at least you’ll stay forever young” on a city street filled with the names of Black victims of brutality. This was followed by celebrities reading off the names of Black lives lost in what Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, called “the over 400-year-long pandemic called racism.”
Floyd’s was the last name, read by Jamie Foxx.
Beyoncé was anointed ‘The Queen’ by Michelle Obama
The former first lady started the tributes to Beyoncé, who was honored with the Humanitarian Award.
“I am here to talk about The Queen, you know the one,” Obama said in a video presentation, which began the accolades to the singer/activist. “She’s always turning up, looking out and making us all a little bit better, a little more fierce. To my girl, I just want to say, you inspire me. You inspire all of us.”
Beyoncé addressed the awards program, calling the honor “beautiful” in a video. She dedicated the award “to all of my brothers out there, all of my sisters out there inspiring me, marching and fighting for change.”
Beyoncé ended the speech urging voter participation. “I’m encouraging you to continue to take action, continue to work to change a racist and unequal system. We have to continue to do this together.”
Beyoncé reigned even when she lost the award for best female R&B/pop artist. Winner Lizzo gave a shout-out, “Beyoncé, thank you for everything you have done for Black culture.”
Lil Wayne remembered Kobe Bryant
The musician paid tribute to the Lakers basketball legend with a performance of his 2009 track “Kobe Bryant” on a stage that highlighted Bryant’s number, 24.
Lil Wayne added some lyrics to reflect the NBA legend’s January death in a helicopter crash, which also killed Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
“My heart goes out to Vanessa and the whole Black Mamba family,” Wayne sang, speaking of Bryant’s wife, Vanessa. He ended with, “Rest in power/ Let’s hope for peace/ Black lives matter, facts.”
Wayne Brady performed a tribute to Little Richard
Brady performed an uplifting tribute to the music legend, who died in May at 87. Brady performed a medley of the rock ’n’ roll pioneer’s hits including “Lucille” (while crawling over a grand piano), “Good Golly Miss Molly” (toasting Richard’s portrait with a martini) and “Tutti Frutti.”
In another tribute, Lizzo presented the video award to “Higher” from DJ Khaled, featuring the late Nipsey Hussle and Legend. “This is for Nipsey Hussle and for hip-hop,” said Khaled in his acceptance speech. The Grammy-nominated rapper/activist Hussle died in 2018.
Jennifer Hudson gave ‘Respect’ to Aretha Franklin
Hudson channeled the Queen of Soul, sitting behind a grand piano to sing “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” Franklin’s 1972 cover of the song made famous by Nina Simone.
Franklin hand-picked the Oscar-winning Hudson to star in the biopic of her life, “Respect.” The performance was followed by a teaser trailer from the film. Franklin died in 2018.