Patti LaBelle, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah and Tyler Perry were among the icons honored at the inaugural theGrio Awards presented by Allen Media Group founder, chairman and CEO Byron Allen.
“We’re here to celebrate Black excellence, and we can never do enough of that,” Allen told Variety on the red carpet before the award show kicked off, explaining why “every penny, every thought, every ounce of time, energy and work” that went into putting the event was worth it.
“As a child, I was very fortunate. I had unbelievably strong, positive, Black influences, such as Berry Gordy Jr. and Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King Jr.,” he explained. “Celebrating Black excellence is something that our children must always see because it inspires them to believe and to achieve, and to go places where they never thought they could go. But by seeing others, they know it’s possible.”
Variety was inside the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel as Allen promised guests a night to remember as the African American-focused news, lifestyle, sports and entertainment platform theGrio saluted “icons, leaders and legends” from all areas of culture. And he delivered on that pledge.
Honorees like civil rights attorney Ben Crump and STEM prodigy Alena Analeigh McQuarter delivered rousing acceptance speeches. Then, musical tributes to LaBelle (including a showstopping number from Fantasia and a duet by Yolanda Adams and Tyrese) culminated in a once-in-a-lifetime performance from LaBelle, Fantasia, Adams, Hudson and Latifah as they surprised guests with a group rendition of “Superwoman” (LaBelle’s famous collaboration with Dionne Warwick and Gladys Knight).
Before taking the stage, Hudson admitted she spent some time reflecting on what it meant to be awarded the Trailblazer Awards (which co-host Sheryl Underwood joked officially made her an “E.G.G.O.T.” winner.)
“I remember being here [at the Beverly Hilton] right after ‘Dreamgirls,’ sitting in the hallway and seeing Whitney Houston, and I couldn’t even speak. That’s an icon. That’s a trailblazer,” Hudson said, adding the songstress to a list of women like Janet Jackson, Aretha Franklin and Barbra Streisand she’d define as a “trailblazer.” “To see them, and then fast-forward now, I’m like ‘How is this me?’ Those are the people who set the foundation to allow somebody like myself to be able to be here to receive that same accolade.”
The black-tie ceremony — co-hosted by Underwood and Taye Diggs — was broadcast on CBS (and streamed on Paramount+) on Saturday night, but the special was filmed on Oct. 22, which was a busy night for Black Hollywood, as Richard and Tina Knowles-Lawson’s annual Wearable Art Gala was held simultaneously across town at Santa Monica’s Barker Hanger. Perry managed to attend both events, showing up to theGrio Awards in time to accept the ICON award.
“I was thinking about what it means for us to stand with each other, to stand arm in arm, and to honor each other,” he told the crowd. “This is one of those moments that’s so important because we live our lives, we do our work, we keep our heads down. Sometimes we want recognition, we want attention from people who are not paying attention to us, but when our own take a moment to say, ‘You’re special,’ that’s all I ever needed. That’s all I ever wanted and I’m grateful for it.”
Perry went on to thank his late mother and the other Black women who supported him starting out on the Chitlin’ Circuit. It was because of those passionate fans that he arrived in Hollywood with $75 million in his pocket, the leverage he needed to make his own business decisions.
“I learned the power of us. When there was a Black Wall Street, we supported each other. We didn’t run out trying to take our dollar and bring it somewhere else. Our dollar stayed with us,” Perry explained. “I am a product, in 2022, of our dollar staying with us. If we would just wise up and understand the power that we have of our dollar staying within our community, we could change it.”
While Perry doesn’t have expect the playing field to level for Black people in Hollywood or other industries during his lifetime, it’s about fighting for the next generation. And, in the meantime, he’ll continue preaching the importance of ownership within the Black community. “We’ve got the power within ourselves to be great, to make each other great, and to be on top of this entire industry,” he concluded.
Perry pulled double duty during the award show, presenting the Champion Award to Norman Lear — albeit remotely, as Lear’s doctors didn’t think hanging out in the Beverly Hilton ballroom with hundreds of admirers was the safest idea for the 100-year-old. Instead, Perry gave the television icon the award at his home.
The actual Television Icon Award, however, went to Latifah, who was lauded for her decades of success in the medium, beginning with “Living Single” and continuing with CBS’ “The Equalizer,” which is in the middle of its third of four ordered seasons. Latifah blanched at the idea she’s “conquered” television but was humbled by the accolade.
“Television is just something that just reminds me of family, of being a little kid trying to figure out who I am and what my place is in the world,” Latifah told Variety. “Watching shows like ‘Good Times’ and ‘The Jeffersons,’ Carol Burnett, watching the Jackson Five, seeing Janet as a little girl performing — when you come into people’s households, you’re coming into their lives and their environment in a real way. So it helped me dream. It helped me to think, ‘Maybe I could do that one day,’ and here we are.”
Also honored were Dave Chappelle (the Cultural Icon Award), Allyson Felix (the Sports Icon Award), Don Peebles (the Business Icon Award), Robert F. Smith (the Philanthropy Award) and Kenan Thompson (the Comedy Icon Award). Greg Phillinganes served as musical director for the special, which also featured a duet between Yolanda Adams and Tyrese, with DJ Kiss acting as both D.J. and announcer. “Byron Allen Presents theGrio Awards” is co-produced by Allen Media Group and Backhand Productions. Allen, Carolyn Folks, Jennifer Lucas, Jeff Atlas and Michelle Willrich are executive producers.
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