Around 250 feet from Penn Station, a real-live Soul Train rolled up to New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom Sunday night for VH1 Divas Celebrates Soul, which aired last night on MTV’s sister channel. The roster of talent was legit: Mary J. Blige, Sharon Jones, Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu, Marsha Ambrosius, Mavis Staples, Martha Reeves, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, Florence Welch, Estelle, Jessie J, Wanda Jackson, and Jill Scott all took the stage. (As did Travie McCoy, but the less said about that, the better. Boyz II Men were fun, though!). The Roots worked overtime as the event’s backing band as the show toured the sounds of Memphis, Detroit, Philadelphia, London, and Chicago — all hotbeds of powerful R&B- and gospel-inflected grooves. There were many highlights — Flo tackled Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass,” Mary J. and Clarkson shot a series of adorable interview segments — but here are the five must-see moments:
Jennifer Hudson channels Diana Ross, Beyoncé, and Effie White for a performance of “Night of Your Life” that’s disco-diva-rific (lasers, dancers in pink suits, plenty of neck swivel):
Amy Winehouse tribute! Sharon Jones and Wanda Jackson cover “You Know I’m No Good” and Florence Welch sings “Back to Black,” all supported by the band who played on Black, the Dap-Kings. Do yourself a favor and keep an eye on Dap bassist Hagar Ben-Ari. She is the bomb.
Estelle, Erykah Badu, Marsha Ambrosius, and the Roots ?uestlove take you back to Londontown, 1989, for Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life”:
Based on this performance of “(What Doesn’t Kill You) Stronger,” Kelly Clarkson has another smash just waiting to explode:
A whole lotta crazy soul diva on one stage: Erykah Badu, Chaka Kahn, and Mavis Staples blow out “I’ll Take You There”: