One of the highlights of Soul Train Awards 2023 was Janelle Monae’s powerful acceptance speech after being presented with the Spirit of Soul Award during the show’s premiere on BET (Nov. 26).
Delivered before a rapt and cheering audience, the current Grammy Award nominee’s remarks fervently underscored the core mission of the annual ceremony, launched by Soul Train dance show creator Don Cornelius in 1987.
Here’s the full text of Monae’s nearly five-minute speech:
“There’s nothing like being recognized by your own family. Thank you, Soul Train. Thank you, BET, for keeping soul alive. So many people have reinvented that word. I’m so honored to have something like this for us that continues to evolve and showcase so many different forms of what soul can be. As I think about this moment, [there are these] words: ‘I used to walk into the room head down. I don’t walk, now I float’ [reciting a lyric from their song “Float”]. When I think about where my spirit is today, my spirit is lighter. And as I think about the word spirit, I know y’all have heard this: Let the spirit use you, baby. My grandmother would always say that. And I’m just so thankful for her spirit. Her spirit was one of humbleness. Her spirit was one of taking care of our family. She would always tell me, ‘Take care of your family, baby.’
“And that is what I’ve tried to do since the beginning of my career: take care of my family. Y’all are my family. I wanted to shine a light on our community through my storytelling, through the art that I make through music, movies, 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. I’m 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 who have come before me. 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’ [lyric from Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U”]. I’m thankful for the spirit of Nina Simone, who reminds me that my job as an artist is to reflect the times. I’m thankful for the spirit of Grace Jones, who encourages me to remain a free-ass MF. I’m thankful to the spirit of Earth, Wind & Fire for reminding me if there ain’t no beauty, make some beauty. Have mercy [paraphrasing lyric from the band’s “All About Love”]. I’m thankful for the spirit of Stevie Wonder, who reminds me that love is still in need of love today [referencing the icon’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today”].
“As we continue as a people to fight against the systemic injustices and abuses of power that have gone unchallenged for way too long, y’all … we see it around the world. We see what’s happening. I ask us all to please let the spirit of love use you. 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. And may our spirits guide us toward creating a safe and equitable space for our people. May we all experience joy, the spirit of true joy. I love you. Let the spirit use you, baby.”