In the weeks leading up to the BET Awards, a Prince tribute was advertised featuring D’Angelo, Stevie Wonder, Janelle Monae and Sheila E. and the Roots. It was a perfect combination: Prince’s longtime collaborator Sheila along with Wonder, Monae and possibly the two biggest fans and successors of his legacy, both of whom had not only covered his songs but also performed with him at an after-show in 1997.
Ultimately, several tributes took place during the show — featuring Wonder, Monae, Erykah Badu, Maxwell and others — and Sheila gave a masterful performance in the finale, a lightning-fast 10-minute medley of multiple songs. Just one thing was missing: D’Angelo, who is a dazzling performer but can be skittish (as one might expect from an artist who took 14 years to complete his third album).
It’s not that he didn’t have the goods: in 2012, he tore the roof off of Carnegie Hall during a Prince tribute there. Backed by The Roots and ex-Prince band members Wendy and Susannah Melvoin and saxist Eric Leeds, he led the band through rousing versions of “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” and “1999,” stomping from one end of the stage to the other, doing James Brown-style mic-stand drops, kicking over a piano stool (in a deep reference from the long-out-of-print 1985 video Prince and the Revolution Live) and leading the crowd in singalongs and arm-waving.
A look through BET’s press releases about the show reveals that D’Angelo’s name had quietly dropped off of the lineup on the most recent release, dated June 23rd, although he had appeared in one issued on the 20th and nearly each one since his participation in the tribute was announced on Prince’s birthday, June 7th.
Reps for the singer and BET had not responded to Billboard’s requests for comment at press time. The only semi official word came from Questlove, who responded via Twitter to a fan’s request to bring D’Angelo onstage by saying “Not gonna happen.”
Not gonna happen — @reeshanichole
— Questlove Gomez (@questlove) June 27, 2016