Soul Train Music Awards


Don Cornelius founded the annual Soul Train Music Awards to honour the top Black performers and musicians. First airing in 1987, the Soul Train Music Awards recognizes outstanding artists and performances in R&B, hip hop, gospel, and jazz. Often called the “Black Grammys,” the show combines showstopping musical moments with moving acceptance speeches – it’s equal parts party and praise. We’ll explore the origins of this iconic ceremony along with some of its most memorable highlights over the decades.

Origins The Soul Train Music Awards

Were an extension of Cornelius’ syndicated TV programme “Soul Train,” which premiered in 1971 as the first black music-centered show on national television. Soul Train quickly became “the hippest trip in America,” with young viewers tuning in weekly to see the latest styles, dance moves, and musical acts. Capitalising on this success, Cornelius launched the awards in 1987 to specifically honour black music achievements often overlooked by mainstream award shows like the Grammys. The first ceremony was held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and aired on Fox.

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soul train music awards 2023
soul train music awards 2023

Unforgettable Performances

While the trophies handed out are a high honour, the live performances truly make the Soul Train Awards stand out from other musical award ceremonies. Artists pull out all the stops with show-stopping numbers, dance breakdowns, and surprise celebrity guests. Over the years, icons like Patti LaBelle, Usher, Whitney Houston, and Aretha Franklin have brought audiences to their feet. Perhaps most memorable was Madonna’s controversial 1990 vogue-inspired set, which had everyone talking and trying out the dance craze.

Fashion and Style on the Red Carpet

The Soul Train Awards red carpet is just as hot as the stages, spotlighting leading names in style, fashion, and design. Attendees, from performers to athletes to actors, arrive in cutting-edge black designer looks and the latest trends. The ceremony has launched style crazes over the years as young fans flock to copy the hip hairstyles, accessories, tailored suits, and statement gowns. For over 30 years, the red carpet has offered a showcase for both established and up-and-coming African American creatives in the fashion world.

Lifetime Achievement Honorees

While chart success and album sales are one measure of success, the Soul Train Awards also dedicate special recognition to artists who have impacted culture over decades. The ceremony honours seminal figures across genres with Career Achievement and Living Legend awards. Previous recipients have included New Edition, Charlie Wilson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Gladys Knight, Earth Wind & Fire, and the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin. These tributes offer not only celebrations of their artistry but also reflections on the influence of their work.

Spoken Word and Social Commentary

More than just a music award show, the Soul Train Awards opens dialogue on pressing issues impacting the African American community. Throughout its history, presenters and honorees have used the stage to advocate for equality and change, from police brutality to HIV/AIDS prevention. Iconic spoken word pieces about black pride as well as urgent calls for social justice have stirred emotion and even action beyond fans just tuning in for the performances. The ceremony boldly carves out space for artists’ voices on the topics that matter.

Keke Palmer in Versace and More Looks at BET Soul Train Awards 2023
Keke Palmer in Versace and More Looks at BET Soul Train Awards 2023
The Next Generation

For over 35 years now, the Soul Train Awards have also looked to the future by highlighting rising young musicians that carry on traditions across R&B, rap, and gospel. Through categories like Best New Artist and the Rhythm & Bars Award, the show provides a platform for youth culture. Talents like H.E.R., Khalid, Summer Walker, Migos, and Chris Brown first gained notice at the Soul Train Awards early on. Asfan favourites and icons enter legend status, the show ensures the spotlight also connects to budding stars and sounds.

Bridging Generations

Though the music and styles change from decade to decade, the Soul Train Awards keep the connective tissue between artists and fans over generations strong. Youth still look to their musical idols for inspiration, while legendary performers admire the talents emerging. The ceremony offers tribute team-ups and creative collaborations, bridging soul singers with hip-hop hitmakers. No matter the year, established icons like Beyoncé still see the Soul Train Awards stage as a homecoming to celebrate and foster black musical excellence.

The Soul Train Awards Today

After over 30 ceremonies looking back at early tape delay broadcasts, the production value, musical performances, and fashion are at an all-time high in recent years with joint sponsorship by BET and Jesse Collins Entertainment. As black culture continues to redefine mainstream pop in America and globally, the show also now draws in wider audiences. But at its core, Don Cornelius’ original vision still shines, offering recognition for artists pushing culture forward and bringing people together through the unifying freedom of music.


For over three decades now, the Soul Train Music Awards have highlighted the best in soul, R&B, rap and more. What started as a musical celebration for Black artists often overlooked in mainstream award shows has become an iconic ceremony in its own right featuring unforgettable performances, cutting-edge style and powerful social commentary. Though pop music continues evolving, the Soul Train Awards keeps traditions alive by bridging generations and lifting up both promising developing talents and timeless musical icons.

Soul Train Awards 2023 Complete Winners List SZA Leads Night With Usher & Victoria Monét Also Taking Trophies
Soul Train Awards 2023 Complete Winners List SZA Leads Night With Usher & Victoria Monét Also Taking Trophies

Raed More: Soul Train Music Awards


When did the Soul Train Music Awards start?

The first Soul Train Music Awards aired in 1987 as a way to specifically honor Black artists and achievements in R&B, soul, rap, jazz and gospel music.

Who created the Soul Train Music Awards?

The awards show was created by producer and TV host Don Cornelius. He also created the seminal music variety show “Soul Train” in 1971 which spotlighted Black music and culture.

What network airs the Soul Train Music Awards?

The ceremony has aired on various networks over the decades, including FOX, syndication, and BET. After a hiatus in 2007-2008, Black Entertainment Television (BET) revived production in 2009 and has continued broadcasting it since.

Where is the Soul Train Music Awards held?

The venue has changed over the years, but recently the awards have taken place at sites like the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas and the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.

What awards are given out?

Top trophies include categories like Best R&B/Soul Female Artist, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Dance Performance, The Ashford & Simpson Songwriter’s Award and a coveted annual Legend Award.

Who has performed at the Soul Train Music Awards?

Music icons across decades have graced the stage for unforgettable performances, including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Usher, Patti LaBelle, MC Hammer, Luther Vandross and countless more throughout its over 30-year history.

How can you vote for Soul Train Music Awards winners?

Fan voting helps determine some award winners each year. Voting typically takes place online leading up to the annual ceremony in categories like Best New Artist, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year.

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