With all the star power at the BET Awards — Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Beyonce and Samuel L. Jackson, to name a few — the most stirring moment came not from a superstar, but from the mother of one.
Whitney Houston's mother, Cissy, provided the emotional highlight of Sunday's ceremony as she sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in tribute to her late daughter, leaving audience members like Beyonce and Soulja Boy in tears.
Mariah Carey opened the tribute, and her voice wavered as she told stories about Houston. She recalled the last time she saw Houston last year, and how the two laughed and gossiped together.
"I miss my friend," Carey said. "I miss hearing her voice and laughter."
R&B singer Monica was vocally top-notch as she sang "I Love the Lord," a gospel song once sang by Houston; Brandy sang two upbeat Houston hits, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" and "I'm Your Baby Tonight." Chaka Khan blazed the stage with "I'm Every Woman," which Houston remade. Gary Houston, Whitney's brother, also performed; and Houston's "Waiting to Exhale" castmates — Angela Bassett, Lela Rochon and Loretta Devine — also honored the singer.
But it was Cissy Houston's soaring performance that brought the audience to their feet, and had many dabbing their eyes. The tribute came five months after Houston's death: She died the night before the Grammy Awards of an accidental drowning complicated by heart disease and cocaine use.
As compelling as that moment was, the show was also defined by its low points: Entire segments of performances, from Nicki Minaj to Rick Ross, were muted out due to foul language and obscenities, though several vulgarities were heard on air.
It started during the opening number by West's G.O.O.D. music group, which included Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz. There were long moments of censored silence when the rappers performed "Mercy," though not all the offending words were bleeped out. Moments later, Jackson, the show's host, was joined by Spike Lee as they did a comedic version of Jay-Z and West's hit song "... In Paris," to laughs.
"Two distinguished Morehouse men," Lee joked after the performance, referencing the alma mater of the two.
The censor police also worked overtime when Rick Ross performed with his Maybach Music Group and during Minaj's performance and acceptance speech for best female hip-hop artist. Minaj's win was her third consecutive time taking the prize.
"I really, really appreciate BET for keeping this category alive, and I appreciate all the female rappers doing their thing, past, present and future," she said, before uttering an obscenity.
Best gospel winner Yolanda Adams, who also performed, gently took some of her peers to task, urging them to act mature and use their fame wisely.
"We need all of y'all," she said onstage. "I'm saying the world needs everyone in this room. Please make sure that you use your gift responsibly, 'cause we're watching. Our babies are watching, and they want to be like us."
West, the most nominated act of the night with seven, and Jay-Z won the ceremony's top prize, earning video of the year for "Otis." They also won best group.
Beyonce was the second most nominated act with six. She won video director of the year (along with Alan Ferguson) and best female R&B artist and thanked the genre and her female influences.
"I fell in love with music by listening to R&B. It's the core of who I am," she said, giving special thanks to Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige and "Whitney Houston, my angel."
When she lost video of the year to Jay-Z and West, she playfully hit her husband and laughed. The joking continued: Moments later, as West was giving his acceptance speech, Jay-Z interrupted him and said: "Excuse me Kanye, I'm gonna let you continue, but ...," and the audience erupted with laughter, recalling West's infamous interruption of Taylor Swift's MTV Video Music Awards speech a few years back.
Chris Brown was also a double winner, picking up his second consecutive win for best male R&B artist, and the "Fandemonium" award for a third time.
Brown also performed in his first televised appearance since the New York City nightclub brawl between his entourage and Drake's. Brown, his girlfriend, his bodyguard and NBA star Tony Parker were among those injured in the June 14 encounter, where bottles were thrown.
Drake didn't show, though he was named best male hip-hop artist.
The tone of night fluctuated frequently, as the show shifted from hotly anticipated performances to solemn moments to irreverence. Usher performed his groove "Climax," and Minaj sported a blond wig with pink tips as she performed the songs "Champion" and "Beez in the Trap," which featured 2 Chainz.
D'Angelo returned to the television spotlight with his first performance in years as he attempts a comeback.
The night also featured some tributes to deceased greats: Chante Moore performed a medley of Donna Summer's hits and Valerie Simpson sang a song in honor of her husband and writing partner Nick Ashford. Don Cornelius, Dick Clark and Hal Jackson were remembered. Even West offered tributes: after his performance, he name-dropped Rodney King and Whitney Houston in a verse that got cheers from the crowd, including his girlfriend, Kim Kardashian.
Presenters included Taraji P. Henson, Tyler Perry, Kerry Washington and Jamie Foxx, who wore a T-shirt that had a picture of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.
Frankie Beverly featuring Maze were honored with the lifetime achievement award, and they were serenaded with performances by Tyrese, Faith Evans and Joe. The Rev. Al Sharpton received the humanitarian award, and urged the crowd to vote this November.
"This election is not just about Obama, this is about your momma," he said.
Brandy Norwood is no stranger to juggling the music and film scene. She had an early start in 1993 on TV series “Thea” and was 15 years old when her debut album, “Brandy,” was released the following year. Two years later, she became the star of the UPN network sitcom “Moesha.”
Screaming fans and attendees of the sixth annual Global Fusion Festival chanted, “Brandy!” — calling the award-winning R&B singer/actress to return to the stage after her headlining performance last Saturday.
Brandy left her mark at the festival, gracing the stage singing “Put it Down” from her upcoming album, “Two Eleven,” along with songs that took the audience on a trip down memory lane. She performed a few of her ’90s hits, including “I Wanna Be Down” and “Baby” from her 1994 album titled “Brandy.”
Following a slew of artists, including Kenny Lattimore, Luke James, Elle Varner and Kendrick Lamar, Brandy’s finale was complete after the persistent crowd got her to return on stage for one more song. The crowd cheered and sang along as Brandy came back and performed “The Boy is Mine,” a 1998 duet with award-winning singer/actress Monica.
She won a Grammy award for the “Boy is Mine,” from her best-selling album, “Never Say Never,” then later released albums “Full Moon,” “Afrodisiac” and “Human.” With a wide-range of awards under her belt and making “Billboard’s Hot 100 Song of the Year,” Brandy also had various roles on both TV sitcoms and in films including, “Cinderella” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”
Balancing acting and singing, Brandy explained that after being on a hiatus for some time — “It’s time to get out there and work.”
She plans to continue her role on BET’s show “The Game,” while maintaining her singing career.
“It’s also about finding time to make quality time for the people that you love, plus the fans that I love too, so it works itself out — it’s a lot of fun though,” Brandy explained in a press conference following the show. “I like them [music and acting] both, they both give me a different feeling.”
Brandy’s upcoming album is heavily influenced by her surroundings. She explained that music is “therapeutic” and a way to express whatever is going on in her life — including her love life.
“I feel like the chapter in my life in the last couple of years is what the album represents,” she said. “Music is supposed to come from an honest place, I’m definitely celebrating the fact that love has definitely entered my life in a very positive way.”
In Brandy’s newest album, fans can look forward to experiencing “the core of R&B,” as she describes it. She expressed the joy of working with writers like singer/songwriter/producer Sean Garret and Ester Dean and producers like Grammy-award winning producer Bangladesh. Brandy was also enthused about her work with various artists, including R&B singer Frank Ocean, who she describes as a “genius and a gift to the world.”
With the excitement of her upcoming album and continuing to remain close to her R&B roots, Brandy was pleased with the positive feedback from the Philly audience.
“The crowd was unbelievable, they were chanting through the quiet moments in the show, it just felt like everybody was my friend — that’s how it felt from the moment I got here,” she said. “I just felt really welcomed and at home — I like Philly —
there are some good people from Philly.”
Brandy smiled, referencing her boyfriend, Ryan, who is from Philadelphia.
Brandy’s upcoming album, “Two Eleven,” is scheduled to release Oct. 2.
Luke James, the man behind the soulful love ballad, “I Want You,” will belt out his songs to crowd goers at the Sixth Annual Global Fusion Festival at Penn’s Landing, July 21. James joins Grammy award-winning R&B singer Brandy, Elle Varner and Kenny Lattimore for the free concert.
Having performed at several Philadelphia locations — at World Live Café with Robin Thicke’s “Love After War” tour and also with Estelle’s “All of Me” tour; opening for Beyoncé at her Atlantic City concert; and performing recently at WarmDaddy’s — James said he’s excited to see Philadelphia again.
“I’m going to be giving you music,” James said.
Inspired by themes of love, passion and pleasure, James’ EP, “#Luke,” explores the complexity of relationships and all of the sensual and difficult emotions it brings. “Made to Love,” the title track to his summer 2012 debut album release, simply speaks to people having the capability to experience love. The upbeat dance sound of “Powerless,” was inspired by the idea of being in a relationship and being completely vulnerable to a point that James said is not equal and leaves someone weak. On the other hand, “Soldier” expresses the feelings of having the support from someone who will battle for your complete happiness.
Influenced by the music his mother played for him such as Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and Prince, James said music has kept him driven.
“For me, it’s spiritual,” James said. “It’s a release. It’s therapy to me. It’s a way of getting away. It’s a mental roller coaster. I do [it] because it inspires me. And because someone inspired me, I want to inspire others.”
James, originally from New Orleans, moved to Los Angeles to pursue his musical talents. Formerly in a duo called Luke & Q, he developed his songwriting craft which led him to author Chris Brown’s “Crawl” and Justin Bieber’s “That Should Be Me.”
“I was a sponge,” James said. “I just hung around and learned the technique, the formula, and started to find my way and develop my own style of writing and what it is I want to say.”
He also found his way to work with Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams and Keri Hilson.
Even with his hands-on experience in the industry and extensive résumé, James credited social media with having an impact on his career. Following a tweet out to Estelle one night, James asked to do a song or be in a music video with the singer. Estelle tweeted him back and the two went in the studio shortly after.
“That was an amazing opportunity that happened,” James said. “She admired the song ‘I Want You’ and she tweeted about me. We exchanged contact information through direct messaging. Social media is great. I’m just super grateful.”
Along with his musical talent, James said he has an interest in acting, the next craft he wants to master.
“I want to take it serious just as I take music,” James said. “I want to be respected in all avenues I decide to go down.”