An undeniable creative force took hold 20 years ago this week (Feb. 11, 1997) when Motown released a game-changing album by a newcomer named Erykah Badu. And on Thursday evening, that same force was in full effect as Badu powered up a mini-set of songs from Baduizm. The occasion was Essence magazine’s annual Grammy Week salute to Black Women in Music, this year honoring Badu.
Next-gen soulster Solange surprised the crowd packed inside NeueHouse Hollywood when she entered from the wings to introduce and later present the Essence award to the singer-songwriter-producer. Calling Badu “our mother, sister, daughter,” Solange prefaced her introduction with a brief story about feeling “overwhelmed by all that I felt was expected of me” following last year’s release of her own breakthrough album, A Seat at the Table.
“I was crying ugly tears at 3 a.m.,” recalled Solange. “And out of all the people I could have called, I called her. She told me a story in the only way a woman could who has written songs that we all confessed and saluted ourselves in. Then I was at ease in the same way that I was the first time I heard ‘On & On.’ I am forever grateful for that phone call, her guidance and, most of all, her art and how it has changed the way that we all see, hear and feel ourselves. She is a beautiful reminder that you cannot put us in a box.”
Then Badu took charge to the beat of Baduizm’s “Rimshot” intro. From there, she segued into the aforementioned “On & On,” “Appletree,” The Otherside of Town” and a cut from her Mama’s Gun album, “Didn’t Cha Know.” Following her performance, Badu kept her award acceptance speech short and sweet: “Thank you so much. Peace and love.”
Among the celebs who turned out to see the four-time Grammy winner inside NeueHouse’s Studio A (former home of the legendary I Love Lucy television series) were Janelle Monae, Robert Glasper, Lalah Hathaway, Faith Evans, Chloe x Halle, American Idol finalist La’Porsha Renae, TV personality-songwriter Kandi Burruss, Empire’s Serayah and V. Bozeman, black ish’s Yara Shahidi, Estelle, Remy Ma and Luke James. Industry notables spotted singing and dancing along to the performance included Apple’s Bozoma Saint John and Epic Records president (and previous Essence honoree) Sylvia Rhone.
Roc Nation’s Nigerian singer-songwriter Tiwa warmed up the audience in advance with an energetic set on the NeueHouse roof.