Other than the actual fundraising, one of the enjoyable things about “at home” music events in this time of coronavirus is watching artists perform unvarnished.
This was largely true of BET’s “Saving Ourselves” event (dubbed S.O.S.) on Wednesday (April 22). Although most of the videos were pre-recorded using backing tracks, the home-spun feel of the broadcast and warm-hearted sentiments made for an entertaining and poignant couple of hours that raised funds for communities of color — disproportionately affected by Covid-19.
Emceed by four different hosts — Anthony Anderson, Kelly Rowland, Terrence J and Regina Hall — all presenting from their homes, the absence of any stage direction or time restrictions that typically accompany formal televised events added a loose informality to the occasion.
The benefit kicked off with an uplifting gospel-infused song, “I Smile,” performed by the ageless Kirk Franklin and featuring Kelly Price, Fantasia, Tyrese and others.
The TikTok feel of Usher with Ella Mai and Jermaine Dupri on the smooth R&B single “Don’t Waste My Time,” was followed by John Legend performing his new single “Bigger Love” in an afro wig, beard and a ’70s silk suit accompanied by dancers performing Soul Train style moves from their homes.
Interspersed throughout the show were segments about the plight of the homeless, dealing with anxiety and depression and financial stress.
Another theme was centered on artists’ home cities. D Smoke (on acoustic piano), SiR and Tiffany Gouché represented Inglewood, Calif. with a mix of their own material meshed with Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need Of Love.” Alicia Keys dedicated “Empire State of Mind” to New York accompanying herself on piano with additional production and video footage from NYC hospitals woven in along with dedications from Fat Joe, Whoopi Goldberg, Mc Lyte, Queen Latifah, DJ Premier and Sean “Diddy” Combs.
Atlanta was represented by Ludacris and Jermaine Dupri performing the city’s signature hip-hop song, “Welcome To Atlanta.”
Elsewhere, Common gave a shout out to Chicago while Kelly Rowland introduced her friend Beyoncé’s signing Chloe and Halle (pictured below), who performed “Catch Up” with Swae Lee. Anthony Hamilton lip synced (poorly) in a recording studio to a rendition of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”
A dance-off between Tiffany Haddish and a heavily pregnant Ciara was a hilarious highlight as was the interplay between Kevin Hart and Regina Hall, with Hart pretending to mute his phone while throwing shade.
International attention was noted by Buju Banton, who performed from Jamaica. Other correspondents gave updates from South Africa, France and London ahead of Jhené Aiko and H.E.R.’s performance of their duet “B.S.”
R&B veteran Charlie Wilson wrapped up the show, seemingly from his back garden, performing newer songs “Blessed” and “Forever Valentine” as well as the Gap Band classic “Outstanding.” A fitting final number for a truly heartfelt event.