Performances by 2 Chainz, Elle Varner, Best Male R&B Artist winner Miguel and Ashford & Simpson Songwriter of the Year winner John Legend and others continued through the night — with the best moments featuring old-school artists such as Cedric the Entertainer and Eddie Levert’s lighthearted duet of “Casanova” and Charlie Wilson singing his hit “My Love Is All I Have.”
The latter two performances helped build anticipation for the night’s guests of honor, New Edition, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Emerging in the ’80s, the Boston-bred group, made up of Ronnie DeVoe, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Mike Bivins and Ralph Tresvant (and later Johnny Gill), helped redefine the concept of the “boy band.” Music producer Jimmy Jam and former NBA great business mogul Earvin “Magic” Johnson introduced a video montage of all six members recalling the early days, their separate musical outings and being able to still rock stages some 30 years later. Then they hit the stage to a massive ovation. “Five hundred dollars and a VCR — that was our first deal,” Bell said.
Strangely enough, Bobby Brown delivered the most emotional speech as he thanked his fans and group mates for having his back through trying times. But he failed to mention his late ex-wife, Whitney Houston. Nevertheless, the speeches were all touching. Later in the show, the group performed some of their biggest hits, including “Candy Girl,” “Mr. Telephone Man” and “If It Isn’t Love,” and fans young and old couldn’t help getting out of their seats and singing along.
It was a long night, but the evening closed appropriately with an impromptu appearance by Jamie Foxx, along with a virtual Don Cornelius, and the presentation of the final act of the evening: the one and only Stevie Wonder. The legendary singer and surprise guest explained how Soul Train was a testing ground for “Superstition” and thanked Cornelius, the program and the fans for supporting him throughout his career.
It was a magical performance, as Wonder belted out “Superstition” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” During a revamped version of the latter, a photo montage of recently re-elected President Obama flashed on an elevated screen. Wonder inserted into the lyrics: “We got Barack for four more years.”
Although Cornelius couldn’t be there to witness the show, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that he’d appreciate how the awards ceremony continues to feature some of the best in soul music.