Jun 18, 2019

By Nicole Bitette
A look at the most memorable moments from the first BET Awards to now.

From the time the BET Awards first kicked off in 2001 with hosts Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer, the night has become a cultural staple. Moments like Rick James' final live performance in 2004 to Jesse Williams' powerful speech in 2016 about the Black Lives Matter movement have cemented the ceremony as a must-watch for pop culture fans.

On June 23, the BET Awards will welcome host Regina Hall and some of the biggest names in Black entertainment at the Staples Center stage for its 18th ceremony. BET Awards executive producer Connie Orlando, who also serves as executive vice president and head of programming for BET, spoke to Viacom about the memorable moments that have lit up the awards in years prior.

“One of the best things about BET is that we get to celebrate culture, but also we create cultural moments that live on forever,” Orlando tells Viacom. “These moments have people talking in the moment, the next day, and for years.”

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Where Black Culture Thrives

Orlando, who has been with BET for more than 10 years, says her team continues to look for cultural moments that speak to exactly what is happening in the world around us.

One of her favorite BET Awards memories is Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar's opening performance in 2016, which she names as one of the most “visually beautiful moments” of her career. She calls Williams’ speech that same year was “exactly what we needed to hear.” She fondly recalls James Brown being given the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003, and says that seeing all the generations of New Edition on stage in 2017 was one of the BET Awards biggest and most-buzzed about performances. “BET is known for these moments,” she added.

Its moments like these that have ensured that the award show remains "essential to the black pop culture zeitgeist," as reporter Gerrick D. Kennedy wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “For a community that has long felt like its creative forces are marginalized when it comes to mainstream recognition and being considered for major awards, this show is a heaven.”

"“One of the best things about BET is that we create cultural moments that live on forever." "

Connie Orlando

BET Executive Vice President and Head of Programming

Each year, Orlando says BET is looking to outdo the previous year’s awards.

“The BET Awards is the only living, breathing awards show that exists,” she says. “Everybody shows up and is there for whatever is going to happen. They’re there for the spectacle.”

What’s in store for the future of the BET Awards? Well, that depends on the future of awards shows in general. “Technology is being integrated more, with holograms and visual effects,” Orlando says. “We’ll probably go more global. Music is global and I would love to showcase more of the breadth and depth of the music industry and artistry.”

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