Sunday, August 25th, 2019, my good, good girlfriend and fellow photographer Melena invited me to the taping of the BLACK GIRLS ROCK!® Awards show, “created to celebrate the nexus of achievements of exemplary women of color who break boundaries, blaze trails, and set trends across sectors. Since 2006, the annual BLACK GIRLS ROCK!® Awards has honored an outstanding range of accomplished and inspiring women across generations and genres”. Did somebody say black people + black women + celebration of achievements + girl power? Sign me up!!
The show took place at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark, NJ, and with 48-hours notice, we quickly planned a turn-and-burn road trip from DC to NJ. I had no idea who was even set to perform, just happy to support an event that celebrated me and people like me. The creator, Beverly Bond, is a trailblazer and her effort to recognize the achievements of black women is near and dear to my heart.
As if an epic celebration of black women wasn’t enough, set to perform were: India.Arie, Common, Erykah Badu, Ari Lennox, Elle Varner, Monica, Kiana Ledé, and Maimouna Youssef aka Mumu Fresh. Plus, house music icons, Crystal Waters, Cece Peniston, Robin S., and DJ Cocoa Chanelle. But for me, it was all a surprise. Not knowing who was going to perform next elevated the entire experience.
So, on Sunday afternoon, Mel and I arrived at the NJPAC in record driving time, and after a rollercoaster of waiting, will call, and wristbands, we finally made it into the venue’s pre-party.
Let’s take a moment to get into these outfits.
After the pre-party, imagine my surprise when we walked into the venue, alllllllll the way down to 3rd row center. I was over the moon!
This was my first time attending a live recording. If you’re wondering why I’m being creepily covert, first, we were instructed not to use our phones for the next 4 hours. Then, with the help of a producer, we practiced audience participation: applause, soft applause, louder applause, soft laughter, loud laughter followed by applause…this was work, y’all. But then, the show started.
I wish I could share images of the opener: Crystal Waters, Robin S., and CeCe Peniston with a menagerie of backup dancers. We jumped to our feet and danced, clapped, and danced some more. We sang along to “Show Me Love” and “Finally” at the top of our lungs. After hours of waiting, the show had begun in spectacular fashion. The room’s energy was electric. I thought to myself, “If this is how the show begins, what else can I expect for the next few hours?” And then, guess what happened?
We were all told that the opening number would be performed again, and instructed to pretend that we hadn’t just seen it.
And that’s how the rest of the show went: with absolutely beautiful performances by India.Arie, Ari Lennox, Common and Erykah Badu, Monica, etc., with awards presented to Regina King, Ciara, and Angela Bassett, among others, with the expectation that, at any time, a segment may be presented in duplicate. With 3-minute “commercial breaks”, aka bathroom breaks, and “seat fillers” called up to the front rows to fill in bathroom breaker’s empty chairs. With an invisible producer calling for applause at the start of every commercial break, welcoming host Niecy Nash back to the stage. It was all very mechanical but still wonderful, full of real humor, real surprise, real awe and admiration. Black Girls Rock! was full of highs followed by more highs, but my favorite part? The word delivered by the night’s most prestigious honoree, (Bishop Reverend Deaconess) Angela Bassett. She truly captivates an audience, speaking so powerfully and with intention and purpose that you absolutely must watch on Sunday, September 8th at 8 pm EST on BET to see exactly what I mean.
What. A. Glorious. Evening! The energy of the show was so awesome, it kept me going through an epic after party by DJ D-Nice and midnight drive back to DC.
Wanna see what everyone wore? Check it out: