Lizzo's Entertainer of the Year Honor, Rihanna's Speech and More: Highlights From the 2020 NAACP Image Awards

On Saturday (Feb. 22), celebrities, activists and prominent thought leaders in the Black community descended on the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for a night of celebrating excellence and achievement. The evening was hosted by Black-ish star Anthony Anderson, who opened the ceremony on a light note, running through a litany of off-the-cuff jokes, one of which included gently poking fun at Chaka Khan’s much-discussed rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at 2020 NBA All-Star Game. 

The night’s most illustrious honor -- the President's Award -- was later presented to Rihanna by NAACP President Derrick Johnson, who spoke passionately about the Bajan singer, designer, beauty guru and business maven’s most important contribution: philanthropy. Through her personal platform and the founding of the Clara Lionel Foundation, Rihanna has helped raise billions of dollars to address educational inequity, cancer research, disaster relief and more. Taking the stage in a stunning purple gown, the multi-hyphenate talent first thanked the NAACP for being a pillar for marginalized people before impressing upon the audience the importance of unity in the effort to overcome prejudice. 

“We can only fix this world together. We can’t let the desensitivity seep in,” she stated before going on to say, “How many of us in this room have colleagues and partners and friends from other races, sexes, religions? They want to break bread with you, right? They like you? Well then this is their problem, too. So when you’re marching, protesting and posting about the Michael Brown Jr.s and the Atatiana Jefferson’s of the world tell your friends to pull up.” 

A number of other celebrities also made an impression throughout the evening, adding their sprinkling of personality to Anderson’s hosting duties and taking the stage to introduce the nomination categories. Tiffany Haddish, wearing a sparkling calf-length dress, was first to appear, presenting the nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actress category, which was won by 12-time NAACP nominee Marsai Martin for her performance in Little.

Yet it was a soulful performance from Jill Scott, who arrived on the red carpet sporting a sleek braided look and a curve-hugging, vintage-inspired jumpsuit, that got the crowd on its feet and dancing. Scott, who is a four-time NAACP award winner and currently on tour in celebration of the 20th anniversary of her definitive debut album, Who Is Jill Scott?, opened with a rousing live rendition of “Do You Remember” before transitioning into crowd-pleaser “The Way.”

The second performance of the night came courtesy of Grammy winner H.E.R., who took the stage with support from the Marley dynasty’s youngest contribution, Skip Marley. The duo donned a coordinated denim number and were backed by a live band as they ran through an impeccably arranged medley that ended with an homage to Bob Marley via an R&B facing rendition of “Turn Your Lights Down Low.” 

As for one of the biggest awards of the night, Lizzo was named entertainer of the year, and her speech was a glorious celebration of the spirit of the evening -- and some of her colleagues and idols, too.

"Hello beautiful black people!" she said. "I just want to thank the NAACP for making this one of the most special nights. i got to meet all of my heroes tonight in this room. Miss Angela Bassett -- thank you for this award. It says that I'm the entertainer of the year, but you are the entertainer, PERIOD." The room erupted in cheers.

"I just want to shout out all the big black girls I bring onstage with me," she continued. "I do that because I want them to know they are the trophies. Since this is the final award of the night, I don't even want to make it about me. Every last one of you: you are the award. We are so special. We are such a beautiful people. This is just a reminder of all the incredible things that we can do. God bless you, and keep on being an award. Let's go!"

Other highlights included Tracee Ellis Ross’s impassioned Outstanding Actress Comedy acceptance speech in which she invoked the writings of late womanist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde, as well as electric chemistry between actor Sterling K. Brown and his wife actress Ryan Michelle Bathe, who jointly presented the award for Outstanding Actress Motion Picture. In the midst of merrymaking, the program's In Memoriam portion certainly inspired a more sober and reflective mood. Late names such as rapper Bushwick Bill of Geto Boys, Nipsey Hussle and Juice WRLD were honored in a moving video presentation that ended with touching tribute to Kobe and Gianna Bryant in which the retired jerseys of father and daughter unfurled alongside a basketball hoop.