The BET Soul Train Awards has honoured musician and actor Janelle Monáe with the ‘Spirit of Soul’ award, renaming the original title to respect Monáe’s gender identity.
The award, which has been known as the ‘Lady of Soul’ award, has been changed “to honour the diversity and inclusivity” of artists, specifically Monáe, who identifies as non-binary.
Receiving the award on Monday, November 27, Monáe was acknowledged for their excellence in hip hop, R&B, and soul music. Previous recipients of the award include Jill Scott, Brandy, and Monica.
Proud Queer Black Artist
During their acceptance speech, Monáe expressed their gratitude towards the BET institution and contemporaries for the honours.
“There’s nothing like being recognised by your own family,” said Monáe.
“I’m so honoured to have something like this for us that continues to evolve and showcase so many different forms of what soul can be.”
Speaking on their career, Monáe explained they have been focused on providing authentic representation for Black and Queer communities.
“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.”
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Monáe went on to acknowledge previous music legends and their influences within their lives, including icons Grace Jones and Prince.
They gave a shout out to the “spirit” of collaborator and Queer Icon Grace Jones, who “encourages [them] to remain a free-ass motherfucker.”
In thanking the “spirit of Prince”, Monáe quoted his song ‘I Would Die 4 U,’ saying; “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am something that you’ll never understand.”
BET Embraces Genderless Categories
Earlier in November, The Soul Train Awards announced they would be changing the award title to respect Monáe’s identity.
The change follows calls for other prestigious award bodies to embrace gender-neutral categories.
In the past year, there has been mounting pressure for the Primetime Emmys, Oscar, and Tony awards to change their category systems – similar to The Grammys.
In July, gender-diverse actors Liv Hewson (Yellow Jacket) and Bella Ramsey (The Last Of Us) both spoke out in regards to gendered categories, after their respective Emmy Award nominations.
‘The Age Of Pleasure’
Monáe came out as non-binary in 2018. Speaking with Jada Pinkett Smith on Red Table Talk, they said, “I feel like God is so much bigger than the ‘he’ or the ‘she.’
“And if I am from God, I am everything. I am everything… I just see everything that I am. Beyond the binary,” they continued.
During that time, Monáe released their third studio album, Dirty Computer. The Grammy-nominated release was a celebration of their gender identity and pansexuality, featuring hits including ‘Pynk’ and ‘Make Me Feel.’
The award follows the release of Monáe’s fourth studio album, The Age Of Pleasure, released in June earlier this year. The album, filled with afro-beats and 90’s R’n’B influences, was a continuation of their previous work which represents their Queer Black identity.
The Age Of Pleasure is now available on all major streaming platforms.