NEW YORK — Glittering clothes , big voices and sassy songs about love, loss and everything in between ruled the night during “VH1 Divas Celebrates Soul.” The concert was filled with booty-shaking, sing-along performances from Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige, Florence and the Machine, Jennifer Hudson, Jill Scott, Jessie J and others, who rocked the Hammerstein Ballroom for the show, which aired Monday night (December 19) on VH1.
With an assist from the night’s house band the Roots, it all kicked off with Hudson, Clarkson and Blige channeling the Supremes for “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” before launching into a medley of their own tracks, “Spotlight,” “Real Love” and “Since U Been Gone.”
The performance set the tone for the night, which not only paid homage to the women in the room, both legendary and up-and-coming, but also the cities that birthed some of the most soulful songs in music history, including Chicago, London, Detroit, Philadelphia and Memphis, Tennessee.
Through the night, divas from all walks of life, including Erykah Badu, Estelle, Mavis Staples, Chaka Khan, Martha Reeves, Marsha Ambrosius and Ledisi, as well as a few divos (Boyz II Men and Travie McCoy), sang some of the biggest hits from soul music’s lush history. The set list included a sampling of tracks like “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas, “Walking on Broken Glass” by Annie Lennox, “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers and “Ain’t Nobody” by Khan herself.
When the cities themselves weren’t being honored, the divas were, with solo performances that demonstrated the ladies’ killer vocal prowess. Florence Welch, Clarkson, Sharon Jones, Jessie J, Scott, Hudson and Blige each took the stage to give some shine to their own tracks and pop styles, proving that soul music is a genre that is still alive and well.
The Amy Winehouse tribute was the culmination of the night. Although “VH1 Divas” was all about the living performers who belted out songs at the concert, the presence of one diva gone too soon was certainly felt. Instead of focusing on the loss suffered when the British songstress died over the summer, the show focused on a celebration of her music.
“What’s up New York?” the tribute’s MC, Nas, asked the room. “When the legendary Amy Winehouse sang about me in her song ’Me and Mr. Jones,’ I was so honored. Amy Winehouse was my true soul sister.” The two worked together on her Lioness: Hidden Treasures track, “Like Smoke.” “I’m here to honor a woman who had enough soul to last a lifetime,” he added.
The presence of his “home girl” was felt in the room thanks to her game-changing music as reimagined by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (the latter of whom worked with her on her Back to Black album), Florence Welch and Wanda Jackson. The medley included her soul-killing breakup track “Back to Black” and her sassy anthem “You Know I’m No Good.”