The 2021 Soul Train Awards arrived on Sunday (Nov. 28), streaming on BET after being recorded on Nov. 20 from the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem. Actresses and besties Tichina Arnold and Tisha Campbell were tapped to co-host the award show for the fourth consecutive year.
Celebrating 50 years of the Soul Train Awards, the night was filled with flower-giving to legends such as Ashanti, Jazmine Sullivan, and Maxwell, as well as spotlighting rising stars like Normani and Yung Bleu. There were also scintillating performances from Summer Walker, Silk Sonic, Ari Lennox, Leon Bridges, Lucky Daye, and more.
Following the nearly three-hour party at the famed Apollo, Billboard has picked out the five moments we loved most from the show.
Yung Bleu doubles up with best new artist win
While Yung Bleu is often making headlines with his antics, his music is still the key to a long fruitful career. The Mobile, Alabama native turned heads over the summer with his Moon Boy debut album as an independent artist, and critics took notice. With his win last night, Bleu became the first artist since Chance the Rapper in 2016 to take home best new artist honors at both the BET Hip Hop Awards and Soul Train Awards in the same year.
Ashanti wins Lady of Soul award & delivers fiery performance
Many of our legends are given their flowers when it’s too late, but the Soul Train Awards made sure Ashanti could smell hers when she was presented with the Lady of Soul award by Normani, who is one of the many ’90s babies in the industry influenced by the Queen of Murder Inc.
“A lot of people thought that I wouldn’t make it this far,” she said. “Because of my family, my mom, a.k.a. the original momager, my sister, my dad, my whole team Ashanti, and my amazing fans, I’m standing here tonight.”
The Grammy-winner continued, “Some people may look at my journey and think it was easy — it was not. My career has been filled with so many peaks and valleys, and it definitely wasn’t easy. I’ve been blessed to have broken records, won awards, and toured the world.”
A breathtaking Ashanti then took the stage to bring the Apollo Theater to life while running through staples from her discography, such as “Foolish,” “Rain on Me” and “The Way That I Love You.” She also brought out her musical big brothers Fat Joe and Ja Rule to perform Billboard Hot 100 smash hits “What’s Luv” and “Always on Time.”
Maxwell takes home Legend award honors
A pioneer of the late 1990s neo-soul movement, Maxwell was honored with the Legend award at the 2021 Soul Train Awards. A teary-eyed Brooklyn native accepted the trophy from Jazmine Sullivan and made sure to let the audience know it wasn’t always easy growing up and getting to this point.
“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 is blowing my entire mind,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to be receiving this award tonight.”
The 48-year-old rocked the Apollo Theater with classics from his Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite debut, which turned 25 earlier this year, such as “Till the Cops Come Knockin” and “Sumthin’ Sumthin'” before heading into the crowd to feel the love and close out with the groovy “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder).”
Summer Walker & Ari Lennox unite for R&B royalty
The future of R&B is in good hands. Summer Walker and Ari Lennox teamed up for the debut live performance of their “Unloyal” collaboration, which landed as a standout on Walker’s Still Over It album earlier this November.
With the stage dimly lit and a live band at her back, Summer Walker kicked off the performance in a white dress hugging her curves. Lennox brought the soul to take the baton from Walker while sporting a chocolate leather outfit.
2021’s Soul Cypher Pays Tribute to Aaliyah With “Rock the Boat” Flip
August 25 marked 20 years since the tragic passing of the iconic Aaliyah. The Soul Train Awards paid homage to Baby Girl by bringing back their Soul Cypher, and having the artists rhyme over a flipped version of her posthumous hit “Rock the Boat.”
With assistance from DJ D-Nice, singers Musiq Soulchild, Tone Stith, Koryn Hawthorne, Jac Ross and Elle Varner each took turns putting their vocals to the test with contrasting styles of delivery, while paying tribute to the late Princess of R&B.