(The Root) — The Soul Train Awards 2012 was the first time in the 25-year history of the ceremony that it was without its creator, Don Cornelius. For that reason, this year’s edition, which was taped at the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas and aired on BET and Centric on Sunday night, had to be special.
Hosted by Cedric the Entertainer with the incredibly on-point house band held down by musical director Raphael Saadiq, the awards (see the full list of winners here) kicked off with a very Vegas-style medley of classics. Anthony Hamilton performed Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day,” Leah LaBelle channeled the silky soul of Teena Marie with a cover of “Square Biz” and Fantasia paid r-e-s-p-e-c-t to Aretha Franklin with an inspired performance of “Don’t Play That Song for Me.” Meanwhile, Charlie Wilson, who didn’t need anyone to pay homage to his Gap Band legacy because he is still a relevant artist today, brought it home with “Outstanding.”
Claudia Jordan and Gary Owen introduced Ne-Yo, but not before Owen delivered an awkward Soul Train “white-history moment” when he announced the obvious: that Teena Marie was, in fact, a white woman. Afterward, Ne-Yo, who doubles as Motown’s senior vice president of A&R, rocked the stage as he performed “Let Me Love You,” a cut from his recently released R.E.D. album.
Cornelius’ son, Tony Cornelius, was the next presenter as he reflected on his late father and introduced a loving tribute with Soul Train dancers honoring the different eras of dance. Knowing how much influence the series had on the art of dance for more than 30 years, the Fatima Robinson-choreographed performance was fitting and heartfelt. The dancers encompassed the moves upon which we can all reminisce as they grooved to Guy’s “Groove Me,” got busy to BBD’s “Poison” and punctuated their set by paying homage to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
Keyshia Cole showed why she’s one of soul music’s biggest talents, singing cuts from her new album, Woman to Woman, including “Enough of No Love.” X Factor winner Marcus Canty followed with a serviceable rendition of Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much” before perhaps one of the bigger surprises of the evening.
Tyrese won Song of the Year for his independently released song “Stay” from his No. 1 album Open Invitation. The track was an overwhelming underdog in a category with other nominees that included John Legend’s “Tonight (Best You Ever Had),” Trey Songz’ “Heart Attack,” Estelle’s “Thank You,” Usher’s “Climax” and Wale’s “Lotus Flower Bomb.”