A sea of distinguished African-American luminaries, dressed to the nines, lit up the historic Warner Theater in Washington, D.C., for the fifth annual BET Honors.
Actress Gabrielle Union resumed mistress of ceremony duties again this year, looking elegant on an evening full of great fashion, inspirational words and love for distinguished honorees.
Let’s take a look at each honoree and their tributes:
Literary Arts Award: Dr. Maya Angelou
Acclaimed actress Cicely Tyson began the tribute to the Literary Arts honoree, Dr. Maya Angelou. Media mogul Oprah Winfrey chimed in via special video message to share her love and admiration for the literary legend, and Willow Smith, Queen Latifah and Jill Scott joined Cicely in reciting the celebrated poem, “Still I Rise.”
The biggest surprise of the evening was First Lady Michelle Obama, who wore a long one-shoulder, brick-red dress with her hair in an updo. She took the stage to share her admiration for Dr. Maya, calling the great mind her “shero.”
Dr. Maya, the woman who says she works to liberate human minds and human spirits beginning with her own, delivered her acceptance speech from a chair on stage.
“I am blessed to be on stage with some of the great artists in the world and the First Lady of my country,” she said, visibly emotional.
Musical Arts: Stevie Wonder
Music legend Aretha Franklin and soul vocalist India.Arie began the tribute to Stevie Wonder, the recipient of the Musical Arts award, whose career spans 50 years.
The singers honored Stevie by singing renditions of his hit singles “Higher Ground” and “Do I Do.” When accepting his award, Stevie thanked Motown and all of the musicians who told him “Yeah, you’re alright but you ain’t really got it yet.” He ended his speech by saying, “I love you too much. Maybe three much.”
Education Award: Beverly Kearney
Award-winning track and field coach Beverly Kearney’s story of triumph through tragedy is truly inspiring. Beverly lost her mother at 17 years old, and was homeless and worked multiple jobs at an early age.
“I just didn’t know it was possible for me to feel better than I look, and I look good,” said Beverly, in a long, beaded dress. “My legacy is a long line of people who have succeeded in spite of tragedy; they have taught me that failure is not an option.”
Rapper Common and vocalist Anthony Hamilton performed her musical tribute alongside an impressive high school choir.
Service Award: Tuskegee Airmen
Gabrielle brought out “two handsome redbones [who] are the stars of Red Tails,” actors Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr., to introduce the distinguished Tuskegee Airmen.
These men exhibited excellence and valor during WWII and inspired millions of African Americans to break barriers.
During their acceptance speech via video stream, the men told exciting war stories about how they helped end segregation in the military. They admitted to not realizing at the time that they were making history, and they urged young people to follow in their footsteps of overcoming obstacles with excellence.
Media Award: Spike Lee
Gabrielle did two hilarious impersonations from Boyz N the Hood before introducing John Singleton, who delivered a very special and personal introduction for film mastermind Spike Lee. Spike’s films cause conversation, facilitate change, and have made an indelible mark on pop culture.
None other than Stevie Wonder sang “Living for the City” while a clip of the protest scene from School Daze played on the screen accompanied by actors playing out a protest skit on stage. They marched around in T-shirts emblazoned with "Occupy Hate" and carrying signs like one that stated, "We want our 40 acres and a mule." In true perfectionist fashion, Stevie requested to do the performance twice — better safe than sorry.
During his acceptance speech, Spike talked about his personal connection to his fellow honoree. Not only did Stevie do all of the music for Jungle Fever, but he also performed at Spike’s wedding. The filmmaker also declared that the shucking and jiving needs to stop. He implored others to carry themselves with a little more dignity because "our ancestors laid down their lives" for us. He held up his grandmother as an example of the sacrifices older generations made to see their descendants achieve success. He shared that she put him though Morehouse and film school from some of the money she’d saved from her social security checks and gave him the seed money for She’s Gotta Have It.
Entertainer Award: Mariah Carey
Former Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland and Raekwon of The WuTang Clan kicked off the tribute to Mariah Carey with a rendition of Mariah’s hit single, “Fantasy.” It was a solid performance considering that Kelly and Raekwon only had two days to prepare it.
Mariah’s voice is unparalleled. Her incredible range, whistle registry, record-breaking sales and Grammy collection make her the embodiment of a musical legend.
Patti LaBelle kept the tribute going by singing Mariah’s biggest hit, “Hero.” The most touching moment of the tribute was when her husband Nick Cannon came on stage with their son Moroccan to show support for the love of his life. Baby Monroe was backstage. It’s great to see that Nick is back to full health after suffering from dehydration in Aspen just days before the BET Honors.
Nick hailed Mariah for her dedication to her life as a wife and mother as well as a successful artist. "I know her as a wife," said Nick, who also called her his "angel."
Mariah was overwhelmed by her tribute and thanked nearly everyone imaginable, even down to the coat-check people. Before she made her way off stage, Nick and Mariah shared a cute and heart-warming family moment.
An honorable mention of the evening goes to TJ Holmes, who came out to advise everyone to get out and register to vote. He explained that many states have made voting regulations tricky, and directed viewers to www.bet.com/votingrights to learn more.
—Marcus A. Williams