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.


  • Mike

    I liked the tribute as well. Something about Janelle Monae rubs me the wrong way. I just find her brand of “weird” to be very contrived and manufactured. Spalding was nice, but part of the greatness of “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is the fact that it was a DUDE singing it. Having a female sing the song just turns it into a normal love song. Props to Alicia for writhing on that piano while pregnant, though.

  • Michael

    I feel like maybe I was watching another program, because outside of Alicia – who clearly performs the man’s work all the damn time – I thought it was a last-minute hack job. Prince deserves a hell of a lot more than Janelle Monae’s spastic “look at me, I’m weird for the sake of being weird” crap, and Esparanza Spaulding’s lazy rendition. I’ll leave Patti out of it – because the woman can do no wrong in my book – but would it killed her to have learned a bit more than the verse?

    Truthfully, it was a utter disappointment. Even MJ got a better tribute with Mr. Crocodile Tears.

  • Pete

    Huh. I guess ‘pinions make the world go ’round. Really on Janelle? I don’t know enough about her to judge how contrived it all is, but she definitely has a unique quality about her. I thought she tore up the stage! That’s energy…

    I certainly got caught up in the moment. I always turn into Crazed Fanboy when Prince is in the building. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • Gonzo

    I think Michael and I have discussed the fact that Janelle Monae seems like something we’re supposed to like. The album really doesn’t do anything for me though. Maybe it is the contrived weirdness.

    As for the tribute, Alicia Keys wins, hands down.

  • Judd6149

    Pete…Did you hear that the Purple People Feeder is releasing his next album free with the local London papers again. He was successful with this the last time it happend.

    I can pick up a few copies for you if you like (along with that day’s paper to make it extra cool).

    Say the word, brother.

  • amr

    Janelle killed it! The song fits her style too! Prince asked her personally to perform. He is a fan of hers and of course he enjoyed it!

  • Jada E.

    ok….first off… DONT COME UP IN HERE DISSIN’ MAMA MONAE! she is amazing! the only reason y u probably say she ”rubs u wrong” is cuz u DNT know talent or good music! The Archandroidand Metoois albums are amazing! she’s so clean and taleted… and the in ones that would call ”weird” are the main ones that got talent! so please… b4 u talk about her, ask urself… ”do i have her abilities?’…

    no dissrespect intended…. jus had to get my point out.

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