Janelle Monáe not only opened the 2023 BET Soul Train Awards hosted by Keke Palmer, but also took home the inaugural Spirit of Soul Award.
Monáe opened the show with The Age of Pleasure single, “Float,” before switching to her second number “Champagne Sh*t.” The honoree incorporated audience members with raised champagne glasses before she gave a toast to life, moments to come, and “to the people they can’t erase.”
Bobbi Lanea Tyler and Folayan Omi Kunerede of the rap group Flyana Boss presented the 37-year-old artist with the Spirit of Soul Award. In their powerful acceptance speech, Monáe talked about their family, systemic injustice, their inspirations, and more.
“It’s nothing like being recognized by your own—by your own family—yall are family to me,” they said. “Thank you for keeping the soul alive. So many people have reinvented that word, and I am just so honored to have something like this for us that continues to evolve and showcase so many different forms of what soul can be.”
Thinking of wise words spoken by their grandmother, the “Lipstick Lover” added, “’Let the spirit use you, baby. Let the spirit use you’—my grandmother would always say that. And I’m just so thankful for her spirit. Her spirit was one of humbleness. Her spirit was one of taking care of our family. She would always tell me, ‘Take care of your family, babe. Take care of your family.’ And that is what I’ve tried to do since the beginning of my career is take care of my family.
“Y’all are my family. I wanted to shine a light on our community through my storytelling, through the art that I make, through movies, music, fashion; bringing it back around to us, to our Blackness, to our beauty.”
Before wrapping their speech, Monáe also mentioned her icons, including Grace Jones, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and the late singer and musician, Prince. “I’m not a woman,” they quoted.
Janelle Monáe took time to shed light on “systemic injustice and abuses of power” and urged the viewers. “Let the spirit of love use you. Let the spirit of kindness use you, they said. “Let the spirit of empathy use you. Let the spirit of peace be your guide always and forever. And may our spirits guide us toward creating a safe and equitable place for our people.”