LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Top black performers paid high tribute to fallen pop star Michael Jackson at Sunday’s BET Awards where his sister Janet Jackson and father Joe Jackson made their first public appearances since the singer’s death.
The show’s most moving moment came in a final tribute when Janet, a pop star in her own right, took the stage to thank the audience for turning out to honor her dead brother.
“To you, Michael is an icon. To us, Michael is family, and he will forever live in all of our hearts,” said Jackson, her voice choking as she held back tears. “On behalf of my family and myself, thank you for all of your love. Thank you for all of your support, we miss him so much.”
She was followed by host Jamie Foxx and R&B singer Ne-Yo singing a tender duet of Jackson 5 hit “I’ll Be There,” while pictures of Jackson were displayed on a giant video screen.
A member of 1970s brother band the Jackson 5 and a musical sensation, Jackson’s 1982 smash “Thriller” is the best-selling album of all time, and Jackson was a major influence on R&B, hip hop and many other forms of music for 40 years.
Jackson died suddenly from cardiac arrest at age 50 in his Los Angeles home on Thursday. The BET Awards, which annually honor African American singers, actors, actresses and athletes, transformed into a tribute to the pop superstar.
In the front row, Joe Jackson watched performances by the likes of Beyonce, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and the O’Jays, most of whom either gave testimonials to Jackson or in some way highlighted his influence on their own careers.
Ahead of the show, Joe Jackson told Reuters that if his son were there, “He would have said, ‘I love you all,’ that’s what he would have said. “I love you all,” and he would’ve loved everybody ... I only wish that he could’ve been here to see all this,” Joe Jackson said.
Show host Jamie Foxx put the program in party mode from the start, dancing Jackson’s famous moonwalk, singing his hit song “Beat It” and wearing a classic King of Pop costume — red leather jacket and one white glove.
“We’re going to celebrate this black man. He belongs to us, and we shared him with everybody else,” Foxx told the crowd.
Two inspiring moments came when Beyonce sang a version of Ave Maria in an angelic white dress, and later when accepting her award for best female R&B artist, she held her trophy up.
“This is for you, Michael Jackson,” she said, thanking him for being an inspiration and a “hero” to her. Later in the evening, Beyonce also won the award for best video.
Many performers sang Jackson songs and dressed as he did when he was on stage — leather jackets, high pants, white socks, uniform-like costumes and a single white gloved hand.
Some of the winners included best male R&B singer Ne-Yo, best actress Taraji P. Henson, best male hip hop artist Lil Wayne, and best male athlete, basketball star LeBron James.
While the 50-year-old Jackson was loved by many, he lived a reclusive life in his final years, and in the 1990s he was twice accused of child molestation — charges never proven.
His death continues to be shrouded in questions of prescription drug use and, although an autopsy was performed, it will be four to six weeks before an official cause of death can be determined after toxicology tests are completed.
But music mogul and rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs set the tone for the night on the red carpet, telling reporters Jackson “is one of our heroes. As African Americans, we are not going to let everybody beat him up.”
Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte; editing by Anthony Boadle.