On the night of November 26th, during the 36th Annual Soul Train Awards, Janelle Monáe was honored with the Spirit of Soul Award. The Soul Train Awards are an esteemed platform that celebrates outstanding achievements in hip hop, R&B, and soul music.
Earlier this month, BET announced that they have renamed the category formerly known as the Lady of Soul Award to the Spirit of Soul Award. This change was implemented to acknowledge the importance of diversity and inclusivity, which is particularly relevant given that Janelle Monáe identifies as a Black nonbinary individual. Undoubtedly, winning this award is the night’s most prestigious accolade, and Janelle Monáe’s triumph further solidifies her status as a powerhouse in the industry.
Monáe, dressed in a vibrant floral ensemble, opened the show by performing her captivating single, “Float,” from The Age of Pleasure, followed by a second upbeat dance track, “Champagne Sh*t.” Engaging with the audience, the esteemed artist gracefully danced alongside them, all while holding champagne glasses. In a heartfelt moment, she raised her glass in a toast to life, future moments, and the spirit of those who cannot be forgotten.
After their energetic performance, Bobbi LaNea and Folayan from the rap duo Flyana Boss presented the Spirit of Soul Award to Monáe. In a compelling acceptance speech, Monáe touched upon various topics including their sources of inspiration, systemic injustice, and emphasized the significance of receiving recognition from the Soul Train Awards
Monáe emphasized the significance of being acknowledged and the influence of the term “soul” and its effects. “It’s nothing like being recognized by your own—by your own family—yall are family to me,” They shared, “Thank you so much BET, Thank you so much Soul Train. Thank you for keeping the soul alive. So many people have reinvented that word and I’m just so honored to have something like this for us that continues to evolve and showcase so many different forms of what soul can be.”
They went on to discuss their aspirations of serving as a symbol of love and representation for the Black community, while also sharing their personal experiences. “I’ve always wanted to shine a light on our community through my storytelling, through the art that I make, through movies, music, fashion; bringing it back around to us, to our Blackness, to our beauty. And I cannot help but think about the spirit of so many who’ve had to whisper to me, ‘thank you,’ in my ear because they did not feel seen. They did not feel safe. And they felt unheard for far too long. I’m thankful to be able to show up for you.”
Monáe continued by naming other Black artists, LGBTQ and allies, who have inspired them, and emphasized that their career has always been centered on genuine representation. “Im thankful to show up for my people in ways that are rooted in love. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for the spirit of so many that have come before me.” They acknowledged a line from Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U,” stating: “The spirit of Prince, whose spirit taught me ‘I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am something that you’ll never understand.’” They talked about Nina Simone, and mentioned Simone “reminds me that my job as an artist is to reflect the times.” Additionally, they included the queer icon Grace Jones, who encourages them to embrace freedom.
Janelle Monáe dedicated the end of their speech to bring attention to the pressing issues of “systemic injustice and abuses of power” and encouraged the audience to reflect upon them. “As we continue as a people to fight against the systemic injustices and abuses of power that have gone unchallenged for way to long yall-I ask us all to please in the spirit of love, let the spirit of kindness use you, let the spirit of empathy use you, let the spirit of peace be your guide, always and forever. May our spirits guide us towards creating a safe and equitable place for our people. May we all experience joy, the spirit of true joy, let the spirit use you, baby!”