BET Awards pays tribute to Prince with The Roots, Erykah Badu & more

Jem Aswad
Tracee Ellis Ross Talks Prince Celebration at 2016 BET Awards
Tracee Ellis Ross Talks Prince Celebration at 2016 BET Awards

Announcements of the BET Awards' Prince tributes made it seems as if it would be a single performance involving D'Angelo, The Roots and others. But as the show began, it became clear that there would be a series of tributes throughout the night.

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The first one came up just 35 minutes into the show, as Dave Chappelle, wearing shades and a purple pocket square in his jacket and speaking in a surprisingly husky voice. "On April 21, we got that news, and literally our hearts were broken," he said, as the camera flashed to Spike Lee (wearing a knit purple hat) and Samuel L. Jackson in the audience. "I was 11 years old when Purple Rain came out, and by the time I was 20, Prince had changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. ...; We miss him dearly. And tonight we celebrate the rich legacy of this remarkable genius, who we are all so proud of."

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The then introduced his "old friends" the Roots, Erykah Badu and Bilal.

Stevie Wonder Joins Announced Prince Tribute at 2016 BET Awards

First up was Badu -- wearing a black beret, a white fake fur stole and leather pants and what seemed to be a giant purple paper arm corsage – doing a flawless version of "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" from 1987's classic Sign O' the Times LP. Her sultry voice was perfect for the song's jazzy melody and the band – who have played the song before at Prince tributes -- matched the song's arrangement perfectly, even throwing in his vintage 808 electronic drum sound. What was most surprising was the number of celebrities in the audience (Taraji P. Henson, Jackson, BET's Stephen Hill) who knew the words to this relatively deep cut.

Bilal -- who goes so far back with the Roots and Prince tributes that he performed with them at one at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1999 – was next with Purple Rain's "The Beautiful Ones," which he nailed in a near-flawless falsetto. However, and not to be cruel, the cameras flashed on Maxwell as the song began, which did make one wonder how he would have handled the song (especially in light of his gorgeous falsetto version of Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work").

One thing Maxwell almost definitely wouldn't have done, however, was the sprawling, floor-humping and shrieking Bilal did at the end of the song, mimicking Prince's moves from the film comically but respectfully. Bilal did not miss his moment.