BET’s Tribute to Prince: Janelle Monae, Esparanza Spalding, Alicia Keys, Patti LaBelle

This past Sunday, Prince was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 10th annual BET Awards. Prior to the presentation, four of his favorite ladies took to the stage to pay tribute to His Purpleness, and let me tell you, this was no half-ass tribute. The performers were reportedly hand picked by Prince: Janelle Monae, Esperanza Spalding, Alicia Keys, and Patti Labelle – and they all killed. Let’s take a look…

Janelle Monae – quirky, unconventional, and flat out weird (in the good sense of the word) – chose the perfect song to match her style and to kick off the festivities: “Let’s Go Crazy”. Watching her perform made me slap myself for missing her when she stopped through town last week with Erykah Badu. I love the way she writhes and slides and pops and twists (aka her flavor of dancing). And to top it all off, she’s carried off the stage after the tune. Prince seemed to dig it, didn’t he? So did I.

Esperanza Spalding was next, stepping to the mic with her stand-up electric bass, and launched into the classic from side 3 of Sign ‘o’ the Times, “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” It sounds like they used the original studio intro, sans Prince’s “oooo’s”. I wonder if Prince provided the backing track? Top notch performance of one of my favorite Prince tunes.

Next up was Alicia Keys with another Sign ‘o’ the Times standout: “Adore”. I have NEVER been more attracted to Ms. Alicia Keys than during this performance. It may have something to do with kicking off her heels and crawling barefoot on top of her piano and doing serious lusty justice to the song. She stayed pretty true to the nuances of Prince’s vocal delivery too – though she couldn’t hit some of those falsettos where Prince is up in the stratosphere like only Prince can do. Outstanding stuff from Alicia Keys. Yum yum yum.

To top off the tribute, Patti LaBelle emerged for “Purple Rain” (which Trey Songz had segued into briefly during his performance a few minutes earlier). Patti was on fire. She was having some issues with moving around in her heels, so off they came. She kicked one toward Prince, who swiftly grabbed it up. Patti’s voice was in top form, and was letting loose after her first and only verse. It was a great finale, and Prince was clearly moved, as you’ll see.

Since 1984, for better or worse, through good times and bad, I’ve always loved this man’s music. It was a treat to see him honored like this, and a treat to watch him enjoy and be emotionally affected by these performances.

Nicely done, ladies, nicely done.