SINGER Dave Hollister shook his head in schoolboy adoration while looking down the red carpet before the start of last year’s Soul Train Awards.

The buzz was growing about the legends who trotted down the carpet, bypassing the step-and-repeat and heading straight into Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. The funky fashions on parade made the crowd gasp, clap and cheer in excitement as Earth, Wind & Fire made their way inside, preparing to be honored alongside Gladys Knight.

“They are basically the history of R&B and soul music,” says the awestruck Hollister. “Gladys is just soul [itself]—every note, every breath, every move. I’ve been following her for years, and now, she’s like an aunt to me. Earth Wind & Fire—they’ve just got so many hits. I’m gonna enjoy myself tonight.”

And he did. Hollister was one of the performers who lit up the stage in a tribute to Knight, as did The Time, Tamar Braxton, Robin Thicke, Kenny Lattimore, Natalie Cole and Freddie Jackson, among others. One highlight of the evening was a tribute to Heavy D, who died a week before the awards were taped. Several throwback acts feted D’s life, including Doug E. Fresh, Goodie Mob, Naughty By Nature, Whodini, Big Daddy Kane and Kurtis Blow. The show aired on BET’s sister network, Centric, and the telecast’s premiere was viewed in a record-high 2.5 million households, making it the top-watched show in the network’s history.

“Soul Train was so influential,” says Stephen Hill, president of Music Programming and Specials for BET Networks, explaining why the show is still so popular. “It was the first exhibit of Black youth culture that we all got to see weekly on television. [In this new incarnation,] we get to honor, celebrate and meet people that we idolized growing up; people who really shaped our musical loves, our musical desires.”  

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