[History & Highlights of Black Entertainment Television's Annual Showcase]
A huge occasion which feeds our endless appetite for star gawking, the BET Awards is a cultural event that has emerged as one of the biggest nights in black entertainment.
Established in 2001 to celebrate African-Americans and other minorities in music, film, sports and other fields of entertainment, the first ever Black Entertainment Awards was held at the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and was hosted by comedians Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer. A lavish affair, some of the night's biggest winners included Donnie McClurkin, Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston who at 38 received the night's highest honor - a Lifetime Achievement award.
Squeezing in more star wattage the following year, the award show swapped 'Sin City' for the 'City of Angels.' Choosing Hollywood's Kodak Theater as the new venue, the producers brought back co-hosts Steve and Cedric for a second time. That year, the June 25th live broadcast presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to Earth, Wind & Fire, the Humanitarian Award to boxing legend Muhammad Ali and the inaugural Chairman's Award to gospel pioneer Dr. Bobby Jones.
At the third annual BET Awards, James Brown, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award provided one of the show's unforgettable moments when he and Michael Jackson dazzled the audience with their trademark footwork. Earvin "Magic" Johnson was honored with the Humanitarian Award, which was presented by Jackson.
Touted by the Network as a "star power-infused black-out,'" the following year saw the return of Janet Jackson to live TV after her Super Bowl debacle. Helmed by Pierre Cossette, who has produced CBS' Grammy Awards telecasts for more than 30 years, actress Mo'Nique hosted the three-hour show, which proved to be one of BET's highest-rated programs drawing 5.7 million viewers. In an eclectic performance, the curvy actress led a troupe of six equally voluptuous women to perform a routine that included Beyonce's signature dance moves. Danny Glover received the Humanitarian Award and the Isley Brothers received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Among the nights other electrifying performances was a salute to the 25th anniversary of rap/hip-hop on wax featuring the Sugarhill Gang, Slick Rick and Public Enemy.
Continuing its tradition of surprise openings, the fifth Annual BET Awards reunited Fugees members Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel. With Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith as hosts, Academy Award winner Denzel Washington and wife, Pauletta, were presented with the Humanitarian Award and singer Gladys Knight received the Lifetime Achievement Award whilst first-time nominee John Legend claimed the best new artist trophy. The ceremony also included memorial tributes to Rick James, Ossie Davis and Johnnie Cochran.
Whilst viewership for many awards shows started to decline, the BET Awards continued its winning streak tapping actor Damon Wayans to host the sixth annual award which saw singer Chris Brown score an award for best new artist. Another special award, the Humanitarian Award, was presented by Danny Glover to icon Harry Belafonte.
The performances at the seventh BET Awards ceremony united "Dreamgirls" Jennifer Holliday and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, although the most touching performance was O'Jays singer Eddie Levert's tribute to his son, Gerald, who passed away months earlier. Lil' Kim made a surprise appearance and Public Enemy joined by Bootsy Collins paid tribute to soul legend James Brown who also passed away a year earlier. Don Cheadle was given the Humanitarian Award for raising awareness about genocide in Darfur whilst soul legend Diana Ross was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.
By its eight year, the awards ceremony had already earned a reputation for impressive star turns and a constant ability to recruit A-list talent and performers. Taking place at the Shrine Auditorium, it featured performances from Usher, Mariah Carey and Mary J Blige, but perhaps the most impressive and surprising moment of the night came from Alicia Keys who had the audience on its feet when she brought three different '90s all-female groups to sing their hit songs with her. Keys sang 'Weak' with SWV, 'Hold On' with En Vogue and 'Waterfalls' with surviving TLC members Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas.
The BET Awards in 2009 took on a somber tone as the show was transformed into a hastily organized celebration of Michael Jackson's life who died just three days before the event. Host Jamie Foxx, donning a single glove, kicked off the Jackson-flavored festivities re-creating several of the entertainer's vintage leg kicks and shuffles including a moonwalk across the Shrine stage. Ne-Yo sang a poignant version of Jackson's ballad "The Lady in My Life" while New Edition performed a medley of Jackson 5 songs as several clips from Jackson's videos were featured in a ceremony, which was capped by an emotional appearance of Jackson's sister Janet.
With another moving tribute to Michael Jackson by Chris Brown, the tenth BET Awards drew 7.4 million viewers. Hosted by Queen Latifah, Prince took home a Lifetime Achievement and singer John Legend received the Humanitarian Award.
In an effort to draw in more viewers to this annual show, last year BET introduced the three-day festival called the BET Experience, tagging on nightly concerts, film screenings and worthwhile seminars to the annual show, which proved to be a success. Hosted by Chris Tucker, Charlie Wilson received a lifetime achievement award and Dwayne Wade was honored for his humanitarian efforts.
"The BET Awards has always been about showcasing the best of entertainment," says Stephen Hill, President of Music Programming. "The number of viewers who tuned in to see the BET Awards each year is a testament to the all-star performances, artists and their music's influence on our culture."
Now established as the urban award show which consistently garners respectable ratings from premier names in the black community, the BET Awards, which has thrived in spite of a difficult climate that has seen the demise of earlier competitors like the Vibe Awards, and the Source Awards is now the number one cable awards show.
Marvin Sapp, Mary Mary, Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin have all won the BET Award for Best Gospel Artist since the show inception. This year, Tamela Mann took home her very first Gospel Award beating out competitors Tye Tribbett, Donnie McClurkin at the annual event which was hosted by Chris Rock and held at Nokia Theater L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles.
With nominations in 19 categories from Best New Artist, Best Actress to Best International Act, the BET Awards 2014 was filled with electrifying performances, emotional speeches and unforgettable moments. Taking a cue from Ellen DeGeneres' pizza delivery at this year's Oscar Awards, Rock who had the crowd in fits of laughter, thanks to his riffs on a range of topics, from Donald Sterling to Jay-Z and Solange to Dr. Dre and the Beats/Apple deal, provided the audience with a delivery of Roscoe's Chicken 'n Waffles. Pharrell Williams opened the show with an energetic rendition of "Come Get It Bae" surrounded by cheerleaders, and was joined by surprise performer and fellow Virginia native, Missy Elliott. Beyoncé took home the most trophies of the evening with three awards, as did acclaimed film "12 Years A Slave" which swept the film award categories.
Music icon Lionel Richie received the Lifetime Achievement Award with a tribute that included a presentation of classics "Hello" and "Still" by John Legend and a rendition of "Brick House" by Ledisi although the most memorable moment came from Gospel singer Yolanda Adams who delivered a soulful, inspired performance of "Jesus Is Love," bringing the crowd to its feet.
The "BET Awards" is the biggest guilty pleasure on cable TV for it is one of the most watched award shows on cable according to the Nielsen Company and the franchise remains the #1 program in cable TV history among African-Americans.