It was a star-studded evening as the best and brightest in music came out to celebrate Rowland and Rhone's accomplishments during Grammy Week.
Rhone was touched by a video montage about her career, including a special message of congratulations from Missy Elliott. "Wow, wow, wow," she said, upon taking the stage to accept her award. "That video blew my mind…. I'm so proud of all the artists in that video." She paid tribute to the late Don Cornelius, and ended her speech by offering inspiration to those who, like her, are experiencing change. "I accept this award not only for the past but for the future," said Rhone, who left her role as president of Universal Motown in May 2011. "Transition is an invitation to use all of our talents in life."
During a high-energy performance, Kelly Rowland -- wearing a menswear-inspired ensemble of sparkly gold jacket, leather mini shorts, white button-down and necktie -- sang bits of hits from her diverse career: Destiny's Child songs like "Survivor" and "Independent Women," plus her latter-day hits ("Motivation," "When Love Takes Over"). And the room really went wild when rapper Eve joined her onstage for "Like This."
Songwriter and producer Rico Love surprised Rowland by presenting her with the official plaque marking platinum sales of her single "Motivation."
"To all women out there, God bless you," Rowland said at the end of her set. "I couldn't have done this without you."
Among the many celebrity guests cheering on the honorees at the Belasco Theater: L.A. Reid, Regina King, NeNe Leakes, Holly Robinson Peete, Eva Pigford, "X Factor" winner Melanie Amaro, Joyful Drake, Toccara, Michelle Williams, Wayne Brady, Diddy Dirty Money's Dawn Richard, and Laurieann Gibson. On the 1's and 2's: MC Lyte, who took a moment to honor Sylvia Rhone as "the woman who took a chance on little 16-year-old MC Lyte from Brooklyn."
Here's your all-access pass to ESSENCE's 2012 "Black Women in Music."