R&B/soul — in all its colorful glory — was celebrated during Centric/BET’s telecast of the annual Soul Train Awards this evening (Nov. 29), taped Nov. 6 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The Weeknd and “Uptown Funk” tied with two awards each to lead the winners’ circle.
The Weeknd nabbed best R&B/soul male artist and album of the year for Beauty Behind the Madness, while Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars claimed awards for song of the year and video of the year. Among the other winners: Jidenna (“Classic Man”) for best new artist.
Opening the show with a medley of her songs, a fiesty Erykah Badu held court as host, keeping up a lively pace. At one point, she even made fun of her rumored “bad influence” on some of hip-hop’s notable rappers. In another comedic riff that drew raucous laughter, Badu noted the evening would be devoted to singing and thus, no rappers were allowed. Taking a phone call onstage, Badu tells the caller, Iggy Azalea, that she can come to the show however “because you’re definitely not rap.”
This was Badu’s second stint as host of the Soul Train Awards, having helmed the show for the first time in 1999. “They gave me an associate producer’s role this year,” said Badu, “so I was a part of the show from its inception. And as a writer on the show, they allowed me to be super loose. So it created a really comfortable, fun atmosphere. I was tickled most of the time.”
It was definitely wall-to-wall soul inside the Orleans Arena as a parade of established and emerging acts delivered powerful performances, including Tyrese (who won the Centric Certified Award), R. Kelly, Jazmine Sullivan, Cameo, Erica Campbell, Tasha Cobbs, Empire’s V. Bozeman and After 7. Badu, along with Chrisette Michele, K-Ci Hailey, Lalah Hathaway and Eddie Levert, brought the audience to its feet during the inaugural Soul Train Soul Cypher.
Badu conceived the idea of doing a soul cypher. “I felt it would be really cool,” she said a few days after the awards show taping. “I handpicked the artists and the music; I was just amazed that it came together so fast. It was one of the most brilliantly received pieces of the evening.”
Capping the show were special tributes to Jill Scott and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. Upon receiving the first-ever Lady of Soul Award, Scott reeled off a stirring performance of fan faves and new work, including current single “Back Together,” “A Long Walk,” “Whatever” and “Cross My Mind.” Later during the telecast, Scott also took home the award for best R&B/soul female artist.
“The Lady of Soul honor means a lot,” Scott told Billboard before taking the Orleans stage. “It’s the culmination of 15 years of giving my heart and energy to an audience that appreciates it. It’s a real privilege to still be able to tap into people’s hearts and have ourselves look at ourselves. And for it to come from such a great legacy… This is Soul Train; this is what brought soul music into America’s houses.”
Babyface’s prolific and multiple Grammy Award-winning legacy as a songwriter/producer and artist was the focal point of a roof-raising salute that featured Fantasia (who turned the house out on “Exhale [Shoop Shoop]” and “Superwoman”), Boyz II Men (“I’ll Make Love to You” and “End of the Road”), Brandy (“Sittin’ Up In My Room”), Tevin Campbell (“Can We Talk”) and surprise guest Bobby Brown (“Roni,” joined by Babyface). Epic chairman/CEO and longtime creative/business partner and friend L.A. Reid presented the Legend Award to Babyface, who ended the salute with a performance of his own classic hit “Whip Appeal.”
Talking to Billboard on the red carpet before the taping, Babyface noted that it was exactly 25 years ago when he received his first Soul Train Award. “To still be remembered, to still be relevant is a great feeling,” he added. Asked about the Soul Train Awards’ legacy, Babyface said, “So many people say R&B is dead, that it’s not what it was before. That’s not true. This reminds people that it’s alive and well. Don Cornelius started Soul Train way before 25 years ago. But it was something we all needed then — and we need it just as much now.”
Here’s e complete list of 2015 Soul Train Awards winners is below:
Best New Artist
Best R&B/Soul Male Artist
Centric Certified Award
Video of the Year
Mark Ronson Featuring Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”
Best Gospel and/or Inspirational Song
Lecrae, “All I Need Is You”
Album of the Year
The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness
Best Hip-Hop Song of the Year
Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”
Best R&B/Soul Female Artist
Song of the Year
Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”
The Ashford & Simpson Songwriter’s Award
“Glory” (from the motion picture Selma) written by Lonnie Rashid Lynn, John Roger Stephens and Che Smith (artists: Common and John Legend)
Best Dance Performance
Silento, “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”
Omarion featuring Chris Brown & Jhené Aiko, “Post to Be”