In opening the Soul Train Awards 2023, renowned host Keke Palmer laid down three ground rules for the festivities premiering on November 26, where SZA, Usher, and Victoria Monét emerged as top winners.
“Welcome to Keke’s,” Palmer greeted nominees, performers, presenters, and guests gathered on sofas in the lavish backyard of a Beverly Hills mansion. “Rule No. 1: Act like you all got sense. No. 2: Treat my furniture like it’s your own. And No. 3: When you’re at a Keke party, get up when the spirit moves you!” Despite the unexpected Santa Ana winds, everyone complied, with Palmer jokingly noting, “I feel like my wig is falling off” during the pre-taped show. Notably, the 2023 Soul Train Awards marked a historic moment, celebrating the end of the writer’s strike with an all-female of colour writing team for the first time in Soul Train history.
SZA had a remarkable night, clinching four victories in the categories of best R&B/Soul female artist, album of the year, song of the year, and The Ashford and Simpson Songwriter’s Award. Usher secured three statuettes, winning in the best R&B/Soul male artist, certified soul award, and best collaboration categories with Summer Walker and 21 Savage. Victoria Monét celebrated two wins for best dance performance and video of the year.
The two-hour telecast featured a diverse array of established and emerging R&B/soul artists, with performance highlights including:
Spirit of Life Award honoree Janelle Monae, donned in a vibrant flowered cape, matching boots, and head crown. Backed by an all-female horn section, Monae delivered energetic performances of “Float” and “Champagne Shit” from her Grammy-nominated album, The Age of Pleasure.
Muni Long, collaborating with Grammy winners Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox on “Made for Me.” Long’s sparkling silver ensemble and emotional rendition of her latest single were complemented by the soulful vocals of her backing vocalists.
Soul Cypher, featuring R&B artists Nicci Gilbert, Arin Ray, Eric Bellinger, and Marsha Ambrosius, accompanied by Bryan-Michael Cox. The quartet freestyled over Usher’s 2001 hit “U Got It Bad,” delivering a memorable performance.
Coco Jones, winner of the Best New Artist award, delivered a captivating performance of her single “Double Back” and later joined SWV members for a rendition of “Rain.” Jones also teamed up with BJ the Chicago Kid for their mid-tempo single “Spend the Night.”
Keke Palmer herself gave a riveting performance of her latest single, “Ungorgeous,” leaving the audience enthralled.
The closing highlight was the presentation of the Legend Award to T-Pain, with rapper and activist David Banner praising the artist’s resilience and impact on the industry. T-Pain, reflecting on his career at 39, encouraged new artists to be authentic and unapologetic.
The Soul Train Awards 2023 showcased a dynamic mix of talent, celebrating excellence in R&B/soul music while honouring legends and breaking new ground in representation behind the scenes.
Main image: Black NLA