The Recording Academy celebrated Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz Thursday night at the Black Music Collective Ceremony, one of the most anticipated nights ahead of the 2024 Grammys.
As each icon took the stage to accept the Global Impact Award, which recognizes personal and professional achievements in the industry, both shared heartfelt stories of their journeys to that moment. Throughout the dinner, some of the most revered artists in music came out to show their love and respect for the honorees, including Stevie Wonder, George Clinton, H.E.R., Quavo, Busta Rhymes, Babyface, Tori Kelly, and Erica Campbell.
“So many geniuses in so many genres informed my spirit,” said Kravitz, who was first to accept the award. He began by recalling seeing the Jackson 5 at Madison Square Garden when he was six years old. “My head exploded,” said Kravitz. “I fantasized that I was their long lost brother and turned the Jackson 5 into the Jackson 6.”
He continued by giving credit to the greats who came before him and influenced his approach to music: from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to Jimi Hendrix who “showed the world that the blues can rock it into outer space” to Marvin Gaye and Nina Simone.
“I saw the birth of a new beat, and a new language can create worldwide movements,” he said. “I love this music because it feeds our hearts and strengthens our resolve to keep conveying hope and healing to a wounded world. To be a part of his lineage is a privilege I cherish. To be part of the continuing of this music enriches my soul and fills me with gratitude.”
Fellow activist H.E.R., who performed with Kravitz and Travis Barker at the 2022 Grammys, introduced Kravitz. In a memory echoed by the Mama Said musician, H.E.R. shared her own story of “being a kid” and “waking up on Saturday mornings and hearing my favorite live version of a song called ‘American Woman.’”
She beamed: “The combination of funk, blues, R&B, and rock & roll paired with the fashion, the confidence, the badass walk, and the killer vocals made me at six years old say to my dad, ‘I want to play guitar. I want to be a rock star. I want to be like Lenny Kravitz.’”
Kravitz, a four-time Grammy winner, was also honored by an outstanding performance by Clinton, Quavo, and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Verdine White taking on Kravitz’s massive 1998 hit “Fly Away.” Backed by Andrew Watt, the ensemble had the audience on their feet within the first verse as hands lifted into the air to sing the beloved chorus.
As guests began to settle into dessert, a surprise appearance by Wonder had the room leaping to a standing ovation. Wonder, a longtime friend of Carey, delivered one of the most memorable speeches of the night and impromptu performances. “I thank you for your heart, consistent spirt of love that you show. I’m here because I do love you, forever, and I just want to say this to you,” he addressed Carey before segueing into the lyrics of his Seventies track “Knocks Me Off My Feet.”
After Wonder handed the “Emotions” singer her award, she declared, “I can’t even remark on what just happened,” before quipping, “Does anyone realize this is Stevie Wonder?”
Carey, who holds five Grammy wins, took a moment to recognize that the BMC dinner fell on the first day of Black History Month. “When I first started in the music business, I was often told to ‘conform’ to certain expectations. I was not encouraged to focus on my love for Black music,” she continued, detailing the struggle and determination it took to create music “from my heart.”
Babyface, who has collaborated with Carey, also paid tribute to her storied career, singing “Never Forget You,” the first song they ever wrote together. He followed up with a story from his days working with Aretha Franklin and said he once asked her what artists at the time she deemed “good.” After Franklin replied, “Besides myself?” Babyface said that when he suggested Carey, the legend agreed, “She’s one of the good ones.”
The evening marked the third Black Music Collective dinner, which began in 2020 as an initiative from the Recording Academy to grow and celebrate Black representation within the organization. Other artists who graced the stage on Thursday spanned genres from Andra Day’s aching rendition of “Strange Fruit” to Busta Rhymes and Spliff Star delivering “I Know What You Want,” in honor of Carey (who featured on the 2003 hit). Campbell, Kelly, Yolanda Adams, Davido, and Gabby Samone also paid tribute.
Carey’s speech encapsulated the reason that so many leaders in the industry had gathered that night. “I accept this award on behalf of every person who has ever felt silenced or marginalized. Who has ever been told their voice doesn’t matter. Your truth matters,” she said. “We will continued to pave the way together for a future where authenticity is celebrated, diversity is embraced, and music has the power to change the word.”