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Black Girls Rock: Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige Honored, Aretha Franklin Remembered

New Jersey went to church on Sunday night as some of the most powerful women in entertainment congregated at this year’s Black Girls Rock awards.

The 2018 taping of the annual celebration of women of erupted with an energetic red carpet decked out in gold, glitter, and crystal chandeliers. As the show began, attendees seated at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center leapt to their feet with roaring applause as host Queen Latifah took the stage.

“Tonight we celebrate our queens,” the master of ceremonies said to start off the electrifying program, which honored Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, dance pioneer Judith Jamison, supermodel Naomi Campbell, Lena Waithe, Me Too founder Tarana Burke.

The show opened and closed with moving tributes to Aretha Franklin, who died on Aug. 16 from pancreatic cancer at age 76. (Note: BET asked media not to reveal the performers to avoid ruining the surprise when “Black Girls Rock” airs on BET on Sept. 9.)

“This was a woman who never limited herself,” “Greenleaf” actress Merle Dandridge told Variety. “She always crossed genres. She always crossed cultures. She was never predictable. She was always ferocious and pioneering. Even if you didn’t know her ethics or know her as a woman, you know what she said to you in her music.”

Throughout the telecast, numerous women of power and influence took the stage to present awards to honorees. Phylicia Rashad’s walk to the mic stand was greeted with a standing ovation as she bestowed the star power award to Blige.

The award-winning singer expressed gratitude for her presenter as equally as to her fans. “Now that I am here, I know I have been rocking for years,” said Blige. “You all know that I have had my fair share of ups and downs. I have faced a lot of obstacles — some humiliating and embarrassing times. Because of you, I have come out on the other side each and every time.”

Energy in the room elevated when Ciara presented the rock star award to Jackson — the audience cheered for nearly two minutes. Throughout the entertainer’s speech the audience belted out gestures of gratitude for her talent.

Jackson exclaimed, “Black girls rock now more than ever, and girls, all I can say is rock on.”

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