The 79-year-old “Godmother of Soul” took the stage at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 25, to pay homage to Turner, who died at age 83 in May. As LaBelle began her rendition of “(Simply) the Best,” she confessed mid-verse that she didn’t quite know the words.
“I’m trying, y’all!” she teased before launching into the chorus. “Whatever, I can’t see the words.”
Though the performance went somewhat awry, the crowd didn’t lose steam and continued to dance along. “God bless you, Tina Turner, BET, hip-hop!” LaBelle said as she finished the tune.
The awards show mishap quickly went viral, with some fans delivering mixed reviews of LaBelle’s effort. “I’m tired of Patti not showing up with her reading glasses,” one viewer tweeted on Sunday, while another called the memorable moment “wonderful, serotonin-inducing camp.”
Other social media users compared the BET Awards snafu to LaBelle’s appearance at the 1996 National Tree Lighting, which remains an internet favorite. “Where my background singers?” she says in the clip while attempting to sing a holiday classic. “And that’s the wrong words on the cue cards, I don’t know the song … This Christmas.”
When asked what went wrong on Sunday, a BET spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter: “It was an extraordinary privilege to celebrate the life and legacy of Ms. Tina Turner at BET Awards 2023. Having the incomparable Ms. Patti LaBelle on our stage honoring one of her contemporaries was an equal privilege. Due to the crowd’s enthusiasm, the teleprompter was obstructed, obscuring Ms. LaBelle’s view of the lyrics. Nonetheless, we couldn’t be more grateful to Ms. LaBelle for lending her incredible talent to this moment.”
The two-time Grammy winner’s participation in the awards ceremony was announced just two days before the broadcast. “LaBelle will honor the incomparable Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, showcasing her incredible talent and capturing the essence of Turner’s unparalleled legacy in a performance that promises to be nothing short of extraordinary,” read a statement from the network.
LaBelle, meanwhile, noted in a statement of her own that she was “honored” to be part of such a special tribute. “Tina was a trailblazer and someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for because of all that she overcame and all that she accomplished,” she said. “She was and is everything!”
News broke on May 24 that Turner died at her home in Switzerland. “With her, the world loses a music legend and a role model,” stated her spokesperson, Bernard Doherty.
One day later, a rep for the “Private Dancer” artist confirmed that she died of natural causes.
As the world mourned the music industry’s major loss, LaBelle was one of many celebs who publicly expressed their love for Turner. “Tina, the world will forever be grateful for your voice, your fearlessness, and your grace!” she captioned an Instagram tribute last month. “You truly are the Queen of Rock & Roll and your spirit will reign forever! Rest in eternal peace and love!”