Don Jackson wanted to take his audience on a trip down memory lane on the evening of Friday, May 19. He wanted it to be both a good time and a stage to give some flowers to a few hitmakers and some unsung Black entertainers.
That vision Jackson had was quite the night to remember. The eighth annual Black Music Honors, which he executive produced, returned to the Black Mecca to honor Missy Elliott, SWV, Jeffrey Osborne, Evelyn “Champagne” King and the Hawkins Family at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Arriving just in time for Black Music Month, the two-hour special presentation will be broadcast on the Stellar Network on June 3 with national syndication between June 10-July 2. Bounce TV will air the program on June 19.
“The environment here in Atlanta is more conducive than L.A., Las Vegas or Chicago,” Jackson said. “Our community here appreciates it more, and we can get a turnout that our honorees love. It wasn’t really difficult for us to land here, so we love it and we’ll be back.
Elliott, who will make history as the first female rapper inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this coming November, was named this year’s Music Innovator Icon. The Grammy-winning, Songwriters Hall of Famer was celebrated through a medley of songs she penned or produced for other female acts: Tweet’s “Ooops (Oh My),” 702′s “Where My Girls At,” Aaliyah’s “One in a Million,” and Lady Wray’s “Make it Hot.”
Rapper Da Brat made a special cameo to spit her verse on their 1997 duet “Sock it 2 Me,” while Lil Mo had to pick up the slack from gospel singer Le’Andria Johnson’s three attempts at Fantasia’s “Free Yourself.”
In her acceptance speech, Elliott pinpointed maintaining stable relationships with DJs since the release of her debut solo album, 1997′s “Supa Dupa Fly,” as the secret sauce that allowed her to enjoy a massively successful career as a songwriter, producer, rapper, singer and record label head.
“We forget about the DJs and feel like we don’t need a lot of stuff no more,” Elliott said. “I know we play stuff on our phones now, but all of this has contributed to me standing here today. I didn’t start with just the phones. It was radio that mattered.”
“We tend to wanna be validated by so many other awards,” the multi-hyphenate behind catchy hits like “Work It” and “Get Ur Freak On” added. “But I’ll never look at this as just another award. This means so much to me. I’m never gonna be too big to miss my people’s awards.”
For SWV, currently starring on the Bravo reality series “SWV & Xscape: The Queens of R&B,” being recognized as the Urban Music Icon was long overdue. The platinum-certified, best-selling R&B vocal trio released their debut album, “It’s About Time,” 31 years ago. They were treated to Jacquees and Queen Naija duetting on “You’re Always On My Mind.” Sevyn Streeter, Shelea and Lil Mo came right behind with the group’s signature ballad “Weak.”
“It means the world to us,” SWV member Cheryl “Coko” Gamble said. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We’re so excited, we’re happy, and we’re honored.”
Members Tamara “Taj” George and Leanne “Lelee” Lyons echoed their vocal sister’s sentiments. “It’s the bomb!” George added.
The other honorees predated both Elliott’s and SWV’s success by two decades. Osborne, who was presented with the Legends Award, had his signature croon reimagined by seductive R&B vocalists Dave Hollister, Kenny Lattimore (“Where Did We Go Wrong?”) and Raheem Devaughn (“Love Ballad”).
The lead vocalist and one of the principal songwriters of funk/R&B band L.T.D., Osborne earned his Black Music Honor following the 40th anniversary of his self-titled debut solo album, originally released on May 18, 1982. Receiving the Legends Award takes him back to making the decision to step out on his own with the assistance of late producer/musician George Duke.
“It was a scary moment to leave something successful and go off into the unknown because I never knew what was gonna happen as a solo artist,” Osborne said. “Fortunately, it happened for me with my first record, and it just worked out. It helped that I was a songwriter, and I was able to write instead of having to hunt and search for stuff.”
King’s dance floor-ready grooves kicked off the evening on a high note. Honored as R&B Music Icon, newcomer female vocal trio The Shindellas broke out with the singer-songwriter’s 1977 breakout single “Shame” ahead of Elle Varner taking the wheel on “I’m in Love” and Xscape member Latocha Scott with “Love Come Down.”
“It’s an honor and a blessing because I almost lost my life from COVID, and I’m still here,” King said, adding that she’s touring the remainder of the year. “I’m still working, but the main thing is I’m doing it for the fans, and that’s why I’m here.”
Veteran gospel royalty The Hawkins Family’s storied six-decade legacy was given the Gospel Music Icon Award, which was accepted by Tramaine Hawkins and Lynette Hawkins Stephens. Kevin Lemons & Higher Calling and Tina Campbell were singing praises with “The Potter’s House,” The Williams Brothers breezed through late musician Walter Hawkins’ “Be Grateful,” and Beverly Crawford rounded it out with Edwin Hawkins’ groundbreaking hit rendition of “Oh Happy Day.”
Hip-hop pioneer Roxanne Shanté delivered a few remarks to commemorate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. New Orleans rapper Juvenile graced the stage with his chart topper “Slow Motion.”
Robin Thicke even gave a taste of blue-eyed soul, performing “What You Won’t Do For Love” in memory of Bobby Caldwell. Other performers include David Banner, Anthony Hamilton and The Ton3s and Zacardi Cortez.
WHERE TO WATCH
Black Music Honors
Debuting on Stellar TV on June 3. Airing on Bounce TV on June 19. National syndication June 10-July 2.