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BET Awards: President Debra Lee Thought of Prince Tribute ‘Since the Moment That He Passed Away’

The long-awaited Prince tribute from BET aired live Sunday night from the Microsoft Theater in Downtown Los Angeles. After the network’s Twitter account shamed the Billboard Awards in May, it challenged Madonna’s performance with four different musical medleys for the late icon’s send off.

BET president Debra Lee told Variety on the red carpet that the team’s decision to do something different this year was more proactive than reactionary to Billboard’s dedication to Prince. Dave Chappelle and Jamie Foxx introduced the long list of performers, which included Erykah Badu, the Roots, Stevie Wonder, Bilal, Maxwell, Tori Kelly, Sheila E., Janelle Monae and Jennifer Hudson.

“We’ve been thinking about this since the moment that Prince passed away. We were lucky enough to pay tribute to him in a lifetime achievement award, but he’s such an amazing artist that deserves an amazing tribute,” Lee said.

Yvette Nicole Brown asserted that Sunday night’s performance had such high stakes because “that’s the one we’ve all been waiting for.” The actress reasoned that BET’s connection to the late artist was a special one.

“I don’t have a problem with Madonna doing her thing,” she said. “If she wanted to send off her friend, God bless, but tonight is the one that people will be talking about like, ‘Oh my God!.’”

“Everybody loved him, but he was ours,” she added.

Orlando Jones agreed with Brown before he stated, “I think [tributes] have obviously been done in a lot of places, but to be fair, this is the biggest awards show on cable and what it’s most known for is its ability to put a collection of people of color together in a really interesting and special way.”

BET also celebrated two actors during its award show ceremony. Samuel L. Jackson was honored with the lifetime achievement award and Jesse Williams received this year’s humanitarian award.

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