Janet Jackson, Run-DMC, Cameo and newcomer Gregory Abbott were all double winners last night at the first Soul Train Music Awards, telecast live on Channel 5 from the Santa Monica, Calif., Civic Auditorium. Fifteen awards were given out during the first major awards program devoted exclusively to black music forms, in this case rhythm and blues, gospel, rap and jazz (the smooth, pop-oriented variety).
Although it opened with a tribute to "Soul Train," Don Cornelius' long-running dance and hits TV program, the show featured almost no self-promotion and, more surprisingly given the nature of "Soul Train," no extravagant production numbers. This was an understated, tasteful program from start to finish, and if it lacked the kind of strobe-lit, artificial hysteria of the Grammys and American Music Awards, it put the spotlight back where it belongs, on the singers and their songs.
The awards were chosen by radio program and music directors, retailers and artists whose records appeared on the black charts in 1986, so in many ways this was a vote of both peers and consumers. Janet Jackson won the album of the year award, female, for "Control" and best music video for "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" Run-DMC performed its heavy metal/rap fusion hit "Walk This Way," which won for best rap single, while its "Raising Hell" won the rap album award. The funk group Cameo won the best group single award for "Word Up," while its album of the same name won the group album award.
Gregory Abbott, the handsome newcomer whose debut album yielded the simmering No. 1 single "Shake You Down," won the best single, male, award as well as the award for best new artist.
Other winners: Anita Baker's "Sweet Love," best single, female; George Howard, best solo jazz album; David Sanborn and Bob James' "Double Vision," best group jazz album; Al Green's "He Is the Light," best solo gospel album; the Winans' "Let My People Go," best group gospel album; and cohost Luther Vandross' "Give Me the Reason," male album of the year honors.
Stevie Wonder received the Soul Train Heritage Award for his lifelong contributions to contemporary music and social causes. Wonder was singled out for his contribution to the establishment of a national holiday in the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King. In accepting his award, Wonder sang "I Can Only Be Me," a song he's written for the upcoming Spike Lee film and a sentiment the full house seemed to share.
Vandross and his cohost, Dionne Warwick, were warm and efficient throughout the well-run program (Steve Binder directed). They joined Wonder and Whitney Houston in the most moving live rendition yet of "That's What Friends Are For." Houston also performed solo, as did Vandross. Other musical segments were offered by Cameo (a hip-synching version of "Word Up") and an all-star Fuzak band led by David Sanborn and George Duke (this limp segment seemed closest to that of the other awards shows).
Note to the producers of the Grammy and American Music Awards shows: Last night's launch had at least one lesson -- less is more. Although there were some sparkling performances, there was never a sense of artists competing with superfluous sets and overblown production numbers. In fact, the only time the stage got crowded was for the suddenly massed choir of gospel stars who contributed a dozen visceral solo turns on an old standard, "Oh Mary, Don't You Weep," in the process reaffirming the grace and glory of the human voice raised to God.