Hudson, rocking a white-hooded blazer, and Wonder, in a purple suit, sang “Purple Rain” — a month after the piano-playing icon performed the song with Madonna at the Billboard Music Awards, which BET dissed on Twitter. This time, Hudson was a vocal powerhouse, delivering screeching vocals while Wonder played piano and Kelly played the guitar — all while various photos of Prince appeared on the purple stage.
Wonder and Kelly also gave “Take Me With U” a funky vibe at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
After the performance, Beyonce won video of the year for her hit, “Formation.”
“I want to thank, first of all, her husband and her daughter,” Beyonce’s mother, Tina, said onstage. She said Beyonce had to quickly leave the awards show after her performance for a concert in London.
Earlier in the night, the Roots backed Bilal as he sang “The Beautiful Ones” in a high falsetto. He was sensual and passionate, even lying on the floor while singing near the end of the performance. Audience members — including Fantasia, Tyrese and Jidenna — stood up to sing along and cheer him on. The Roots were also behind Erykah Badu as she performed “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker,” singing softly as she grooved in place.
The performers were introduced by comedian-actor Dave Chappelle, who famously impersonated Prince on his parody show years ago.
More performances honoring Prince are coming up: Janelle Monae will hit the stage, and Sheila E. will close the awards show honoring the man to whom she was once engaged.
The BET Awards also took some political turns Sunday. When “Empire” star Taraji P. Henson won best actress, she encouraged the audience to vote against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“I’m really not political but it’s serious out here, and for those who thing that, you know, ‘Oh he’s not going to win’ — think again. So we really need to pull together and turn this country around,” she said.
Co-host Tracee Ellis Ross said she was supporting Hillary Clinton and reminded viewers several times to “get yourself registered!” Clinton has a past with BET: She appeared at BET’s “Black Girls Rock!” event in April and told the audience “my life has been changed by strong black women leaders.”
Beyoncé kicked off the BET Awards with a surprise performance featuring Kendrick Lamar and multiple background dancers of her song “Freedom,” dancing in a pool of water to the song’s heavy beat. At one point, Lamar and Beyoncé kicked the water and danced in sync, drawing a heavy applause from the audience. The performance was followed by a string of jokes by hosts Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson, including a riff on the Broadway play “Hamilton” mixed with Desiigner’s “Panda” and other songs.
In a surprise win, singer Bryson Tiller won best male R&B/pop artist, besting Chris Brown, The Weeknd, Tyrese and Jeremih. He also won best new artist.
“Thank God, thank my mommy, thank my granny. This is my first award ever,” Tiller said, who is also nominated for video of the year.
Tiller performed, as did Maxwell, Usher, Future and Beyoncé’s mentees, the duo Chloe x Halle. Alicia Keys slowed things down with a performance of “In Common”; Fat Joe, Remy Ma and French Montana were energetic during “All the Way Up”; and Desiigner was excited as he rapped “Panda” onstage and in the middle of the aisles, as most of the audience nodded and sang along.
Spike Lee, Jamie Foxx and Jussie Smollett presented awards. Samuel L. Jackson received the lifetime achievement award and “Grey’s Anatomy” actor and activist Jesse Williams earned the humanitarian award.
Muhammad Ali was honored at Sunday’s awards. He died June 3 at age of 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Prince died of an accidental drug overdose on April 21 at age 57. Prince’s half brother, Alfred Jackson, attended the BET Awards and walked the red carpet.