While the syndicated Soul Train Music Awards don't enjoy the popularity of the Grammys or the American Music Awards, this year they share a major attraction: Michael Jackson.
Mr. Jackson's appearance at tonight's ceremony in Los Angeles -- he'll perform his hit "Remember the Time" -- is the latest stop in a publicity blitz that's included the other major music awards shows, the Super Bowl and his top-rated TV interview with Oprah Winfrey.
But no matter what it does for Mr. Jackson, who is also receiving a Humanitarian of the Year award, his performance shines a welcome seventh-year spotlight on "Soul Train's" awards. "We're particularly excited about finally being able to give our audience a performance by Michael Jackson," says Don Cornelius, the "Soul Train" major-domo.
Indeed, the more than 125 stations picking up this year's broadcast are the most ever, potentially 82 percent of all television viewers in the United States. (In Baltimore, the show will be broadcast live on WNUV, Channel 54, from at 8 to 10 tonight.)
The Soul Train Music Awards remains true to its mission of reflecting the most up-to-date trends in the fields of R&B;, rap, gospel and jazz. Last year's recipients, for instance, ran the gamut from the commercial tried-and-true (Luther Vandross, Keith Washington, Natalie Cole) to cutting-edge rappers Public Enemy and upstarts Boyz II Men.
This year's nominations are equally representative. The rap group Arrested Development, which won two Grammys, is up for six Soul Train awards, while the top-selling female vocal quartet En Vogue is nominated for four. Other multiple nominees include Mr. Jackson, Boyz II Men, Mary J. Blige, Bobby Brown, Vanessa Williams and Kris Kross.
Among others, TLC, Blige, CeCe Peniston, Chaka Khan, Arrested Development, Boyz II Men, En Vogue and gospel group Commissioned will perform. Eddie Murphy will receive the Heritage Award for career achievement; En Vogue gets the Sammy Davis Jr. Entertainer of the Year Award.