From the red carpet onward, the BET Honors brings star power to D.C.

How do you know you’re legend? When your bling isn’t diamonds (yawn) but your presidential Medal of Freedom. That’s just how Aretha Franklin, a recipient of the 2014 BET Honors, rolls. And the red carpet for the annual star-studded affair continued to impress as Motown’s Smokey Robinson grappled over his favorite Hitsville record, Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson graced us with a tune, gangster rapper Ice Cube held tightly to his wife as they and a host of other celebrities made their way into the Warner Theatre on Saturday.

In its seventh year, the BET Honors highlights standout members of the African American community in a three-hour long pre-taped show, which will air on the cable network Feb. 24. This year’s class included Franklin, Ice Cube who joked that he “cleaned up pretty good,” music mogul Berry Gordy, American Express chief executive Kenneth Chenault and, for the first time a visual artist, “MacArthur Genius Grant” recipient Carrie Mae Weems, who in accepting her award said, “The vast majority of you have no idea who I am.” Proceeds from the night’s limited ticket sales benefited Women Veterans Interactive, a charity supporting military families. 

Hosted by triple-threat comedian Wayne Brady, 2014′s spirited show was squeezed with stellar performances, not the least of which was Brady’s own parody of Washington-native Ginuwine’s 1996 hit “Pony.” (Note to future producers: Baby oil makes for a hilarious if not headache of a prop). The only musical misstep? Mariah Carey struggling atop a grand piano in a Jessica Rabbit-inspired gown while “singing” a new single no one had heard of.

Janelle Monae’s Jackson 5 homage, paying tribute to Gordy, brought the audience to its feet while Robinson’s passionate performance of “The Tracks of My Tears” for the man he called his “best friend” made folks glad they sat through the sometimes tedious taping. “Well that was worth everything it took to get me into this dress,” said one audience member. Later Gordy described his friendship with Robinson as a “bromance.” 

Hudson’s perfect mash up of Franklin’s greatest hits, which ended with a fervent rendition of “I Never Loved a Man,” seemed like a torch-passing ceremony until, of course, the Queen of Soul herself took the stage in a chinchilla, which she dramatically dropped to the floor before belting out “A Change is Going to Come.” Franklin, still sporting her presidential bling, barely uttered one note before the packed house sprung from their seats. After making everyone’s night — or year — the R&B diva said her “thank yous,” scooped up the clutch she’d left on the accompanying piano and then sashayed off the stage. 

Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
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