BET’s tribute to Andre Harrell was the ultimate ode to Black excellence

Singers, actors, politicians and more paid tribute to the late hip-hop and R&B pioneer.

Andre Harrell attends Premiere Of Netflix’s “The Black Godfather” in California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

Several of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities came together virtually on Sunday to celebrate the life of Andre Harrell, who tragically passed away earlier this month.

Jamie Foxx touched viewers and celebrity friends alike with this heartfelt words about the famed music executive.

“Coming from Texas, you didn’t see a lot of Black men that were in charge of everything. Now, I had positive Black role models coming up, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But I didn’t even know that you could think the way that Andre Harrell thought. Andre said ‘Black man, you can be anything.’ He taught me the word ‘Black excellence.’ I was like ‘what is that?’ He said, ‘It’s me, personified.’”

Those were the words actor Foxx used to describe the late Harrell during BET tribute to the legendary record exec and owner of Uptown Records. Harrell launched the careers of such iconic hip-hop and R&B acts as Mary J. Blige, Heavy D & The Boyz, Jodeci, and Al B. Sure, and he also paved the way for a certain intern named Sean “Diddy” Combs to later continue the legacy through his own label, Bad Boy Records.

READ MORE: Andre Harrell, founder of Uptown Records, is dead at 59

Foxx continued, describing a throwback story from when he was first starting out in the industry and witnessed actress Charlize Theron from across the room at an event.

According to Foxx, Harrell stopped him from approaching and suggested that he focus, gain some success, and win an Oscar before trying to talk to her. Foxx later went on to win the Oscar for Ray, which he says made Harrell proud being that it was a film that celebrated Black excellence. However, on the night of his acceptance speech, he was told by producers that his speech was “referencing Black stuff too much.”

“But with Harrell’s words ringing in my ears about Black excellence I said ‘I’m not changing my speech,'” Foxx said on Sunday. 

He went on to unapologetically deliver his speech as planned and receive his award from the presenter, who just so happened to be Theron. In a beautiful full circle moment, the first person he called when he exited the stage was Harrell. 

Foxx wasn’t the only Black star who attributed much of their drive to Harrell. According to singer Tyrese, “I didn’t believe that an Oscar would be possible before [he] talked to me about it. But I believe it now.” And producer Lee Daniels expressed that “before I showed anybody my movies, I showed Andre. He was the cultural barometer of what people would like to see.”

Several other celebrity friends, such as Naomi Campbell, Kimora Lee Simmons, and Mariah Carey, all fought back tears recalling a man who they described as selfless and loving.

“It was never ever possible to give back to you the way you’ve given to us,” declared Campbell.

“This one hit hard. The people in our lives that give us comfort are the sages, the seers, the pastors. They give us that wisdom. Dre was one of those,” added Pharrell Williams

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Andre Harrell celebration without live musical performances. Kathy Sledge kicked off the night’s music with a simple rendition of Sister Sledge’s “Thinking of You,” and Robin Thicke sung an a cappella snippet of Jodeci’s “Come and Talk to Me.” Thicke also debuted a new track of his titled “Forever Mine” that he and Harrell had been working on and finalized just prior to his May 7 passing. Babyface also debuted a stirring tribute song he wrote specially for this occasion called “I’ll See You in The Stars.” 

However, Harrell’s Black excellence extended well beyond the music industry as politicians Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Maxine Waters provided emotional testimonies about a man who wasn’t in the same industry as them, but who moved them with his passion for voter education. Rep. Waters was especially emotional as Harrell’s death came just a few days after she lost her sister to coronavirus.

“I can’t believe that he’s gone. This is hard to take,” said Rep. Waters. “Two days before I learned that he passed, I’d spent hours on the phone with him. He was about to spend big time on Vote or Die. He was really my go-to person. I’m trying to digest this. I’m trying to make sense out of it. I’m overwhelmed, but I’m not going to forget what was on his mind and what he was about to launch and that he asked me to play a role in that.”

READ MORE: Diddy, Monifah, Aaron Hall, and more pay tribute to Andre Harrell

She then continued on to make an impassioned plea for viewers to get out and vote “in the name of Andre Harrell. Thank you for caring about government and politics and working with someone like me.”

Unlike the musical tributes of yesteryear, this production was filmed solely by the guest stars’ own mobile devices while quarantined in the comfort and familiarity of their own living rooms. Without the usual glitz and glam of hair and makeup teams, production-quality lighting, and a theater full of live music, these Black music industry heavy-hitters came to us raw and vulnerable, sporting new growth and unkempt beards. But despite the seemingly limited circumstances, Black excellence was on full display thanks to filmmaker Jonte and producer Rikki Hughes.