The 2021 Soul Train Awards premiered on Sunday night, taking place at the iconic Apollo Theater in New York.
In true silky, sonic-y fashion, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak opened up the night’s festivities with a performance of “Fly As Me,” one of the latest hits from their debut album, An Evening With Silk Sonic. In celebration of Soul Train’s 50th anniversary, four-time hosts Tichina Arnold and Tisha Campbell followed up that that fly production with a musical song and dance number, briefly joined by R&B icon El DeBarge, that nodded to some of the early sounds of soul while including several of today’s popular soul and R&B hits.
Now, this is usually the part where I run down all the Blackity-Black winners of the night, but seeing as how this is the Soul Train Awards and almost everyone nominated was Black—let’s just get into the lovely winners of the night, shall we?
Jazmine Sullivan, whose EP Heaux Tales spawned many Twitter timeline debates and conversations, took home the first award of the night for Best R&B/Soul Female Artist. Sullivan would return to the stage later in the night to accept the Album of the Year award and to present the Legend Award to her mentor and friend Maxwell (more on that later).
Normani’s “Wild Side” music video was also recognized with the award for Best Dance Performance. In her acceptance speech, the “Motivation” singer took the time to acknowledge the amazing female artists who inspired her to continue on in her journey, like Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, Ciara and Ashanti. Not too long after, Normani was back onstage to present the Lady of Soul Award to Ashanti for her musical contributions over the years.
“I’m honored to be recognized as this year’s ‘Lady of Soul’ honoree,” said Ashanti in a statement provided to The Root. “This is a full circle moment for me because I received the ‘Aretha Franklin Entertainer of the Year’ Award at the Lady of Soul Awards in 2002. As we commemorate 50 years of Soul Train, I’m proud to be a part of this legacy and to return to the Apollo to celebrate.”
Other winners of the night included Silk Sonic, who took home the awards for Song of the Year, Video of the Year and the Ashford and Simpson Songwriter’s Award for “Leave the Door Open”; Yung Bleu, who took home the award for Best New Artist; Giveon for Best R&B/Soul Male Artist; Charlie Wilson for Certified Soul Artist; Kirk Franklin for Best Gospel/Inspirational Award, and Wizkid feat Tems.’ “Essence” for Best Collaboration.
On the performance front, Ashanti (with assists from Fat Joe and Ja Rule), Ari Lennox, Lucky Daye, and Silk Sonic all took the stage, providing sultry soulful sounds of the night. (Can we talk about Ari’s feathery ‘fit and Lucky’s cutout, rip-off, whatever you wanna call it top? He may have been singing his hit “Over,” but based on the audience reaction when he took off his top in classic male R&B singer steeze, it’s clear we all wanted just a little bit more of his tantalizing talent.)
But male chesticles and feathery ‘fits aside, the biggest (and best, in my opinion) performance of the night went to Maxwell, who accepted the Living Legend Award, presented by Jazmine Sullivan. In his emotional speech, the “Fortunate” artist thanked Don Cornelius and the soul music community for continuing to support him after all these years.
“To be able to stand here before all of you and to be part of the community of R&B and soul music is truly the award that I’ve always wished for but this is literally blowing my entire mind,” Maxwell said in part.
What followed next was an energetic medley of some of his best hits, like “Till the Cops Come Knockin,” “Bad Habits,” “Lifetime,” “Somethin, Somethin (Mellosmoove),” and my personal favorite, “Ascension.” (Which is arguably the greatest song of all time, but that’s a conversation for another day.)
For the full list of winners, head on over to bet.com.