Los Angeles may have been a constellation of stars during the 45th Annual NAACP Image Awards last night, but TV One and Walmart brought high wattage shine to Bentonville, AR with a black tie viewing party that featured performances by Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight.
“We’re almost 70 years old, we’re just 4 days apart,” LaBelle reminded the crowd of herself and Knight who share May birthdays. And one thing was clear at the end of the night: they still got it!
Patti kicked off the night (and inevitably, her high-heels) taking it back to some of her classic hits including “If Only You Knew” and the Grammy award-winning “Lady Marmalade.” “Marmalade” made for one of the night’s most spirited performance when the songstress asked for a few men to join her on stage and ended up bum rushed by rows of gents who literally jumped at the chance to dance with her. And then there was the moment during the song where she called out Christina Aguilera, Mya, Pink and ‘Lil Kim — who found their own Grammy gold when they covered “Lady Marmalade” in 2002 — and urged audiences “don’t forget who did it first!” (that would be LaBelle and her bandmates Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash who will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the song with a reunion tour this year). Patti certainly hasn’t minced her words lately when it comes to a younger generation of singers. Earlier this year she denounced the word “diva” saying it’s not “cute” anymore now that “all these little heiffers that can’t sing are called divas!”
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Watch a real diva SANG.
Call her what you may, but only a performer of LaBelle’s ilk could have the room falling out with her hilarious acts that only seemed to amplify the energy of her songs. She sent the audience into a fit of giggles when she paused between sets to find an oversized mirror and touch up her makuep before declaring to front-row cameramen “you can take your pictures now,” and there were cheers when she threw her mic stand clear across the stage and kicked off her stilettos to
sing sang barefoot as her longtime piano player John Stanley gathered a back up pair of flats to hand her (yep, they’ve got this routine down).
But while Patti easily brought out laughter and get-out-of-your-chair dancing from the audience, she also evoked deep emotion when she wrapped her set with somber performances. A hush fell over the crowd as she dedicated a soulful version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” to Gladys Knight’s son, Sanga, and then sung “The Lord’s Prayer” in remembrance of her three sisters, who each died of cancer, as well her deceased parents. “I hope they’re smiling at their daughter and sister,” the singer told the audience through tears. “For the world’s problems we have to pray with each otherand stay with each other.”
After live cuts to the West Coast to stay up on awards winner announcements, guests turned their attention to Gladys Knight, who arrived at the party in the silver Tadashi Shoji dress, before slipping into a striking white gown. Knight floated onto the stage and kept the night going with Pips-assisted song “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination,” before segueing into her own moment of honoring others. “Sarah Vaughn, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, all of them,” she called out, remembering the some of the singers who inspired her own craft. “Ms. [Ella] Fitzgerald was like my god mom; she used to come and see me [perform] and I couldnt’ believe it…I used to listen to her music as a little girl and could’ve sworn the music she was doing was just for me,” she added before preforming “The Man I Love,” a song that has particularly resonated with her.
Knight also used her velvety vocals to cover “Stormy Weather” — famously sung by the likes of Lena Horne and Billy Holiday— and “Someone To Watch Over Me,” before giving the crowd song from her own catalogue (“Neither One Of Us” “Love Overboard” and “Midnight Train to Georgia”). The best legends never forget to remember those who paved the way, no matter how big they get.
Get it Gladys!
In the midst of a night that honored some of this year’s greatest talents, the performances by two living legends reminded guests — like actor Laz Alonso — that there is still so much to celebrate when we look back on those who paved the way. “I’m a big Patti LaBelle fan, I’m a big Gladys Knight fan, that’s music my parents played around the house,” Alonso said. “So it’s always great to hear the greats in person. A lot of times we take them for granted. We only pay homage once they’re gone, so it’s great to appreciate them while they’re here. That’s what I wanted to do tonight.”
Check out pictures from the evening — including the after party that brought out even more special guests — in the gallery below!