On Sunday, Janelle Monáe accepted the Soul Train Awards’ highest honor: the Spirit of Soul award. This award was previously titled the Lady of Soul Award and is awarded to female R&B singers who have made an impact on the genre, with previous awardees including Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Jasmine Sullivan, and Beyoncé. Monáe uses they/them pronouns, and the award was renamed the Spirit of Soul when presented to them.
Monáe was presented the award by their protégés, the rap duo Flyanna Boss. In their acceptance speech, Monáe said, “There’s nothing like being recognized by your own family. 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.”
The Spirit of Soul award can be viewed as a lifetime achievement award, and Monáe took the time to reflect on their journey. “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,” they said. “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.”
To close their speech, they sent love to the late Prince. “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.”
To top the night off, Monáe put on a jaw-dropping, hip-shaking performance with a toast to “the people they can’t erase” sandwiched between medleys of their songs.