By C. Molly Smith
February 06, 2015 at 05:54 PM EST
Michael Tran/Getty Images

Beyonce, Emeli Sandé, Whitney Houston, Brandy, Rihanna, Jill Scott, Chaka Khan, MC Lyte, Lianne la Havas: What do these names have in common? They’re all successful, talented, black, female musicians who were lauded by attendees of Essence‘s 6th annual Black Women in Music event as inspirational forces to be reckoned with. 

The pre-Grammy event, held at Avalon Hollywood on Thursday, celebrated black female musicians, past and present, specifically honoring three-time Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Jill Scott. It saw performances from Chaka Khan, Brandy, MC Lyte, and up-and-comer Lianne La Havas.  

On the red carpet, attendees praised the women listed above to Entertainment Weekly and also spoke about the current state of black female musicians in the industry. “I think women are doing very, very well,” British songstress Leona Lewis said. “We have some really, really strong, talented females doing such amazing things right now. I think it’s balancing out well.”

Veronika Bozeman, who plays Veronica on Fox’s breakout hit Empire, thinks there’s been a lot of improvement. “I feel like we understand that supporting each other is so necessary in our journey, doing this thing we call music,” she said. “We have to sit together and support each other—women, period. Not even black women, but all women. It’s important because [the industry] is male dominated. We have to start having a voice. We are having a voice.”

Boardwalk Empire‘s Margot Bingham echoed Bozeman’s words: “I think we’re in a really rebellious state as far as being a female,” she said. She knows what she’s talking about; in addition to playing jazz and blues singer Daughter Maitland on the HBO series, Bingham makes her own music. “As far as black or white, I don’t think there’s much of a difference on anything being easier or more of a struggle or less of a struggle,” she continued. “I think that we’re at a really cool point where people have a little bit of their own voice, a more interesting one, and they don’t have to be so cornered.”

Brandy kicked off the performances at the event itself, followed by newcomer Lianne La Havas, and rapper MC Lyte. Next, Chaka Khan brought the house down with “Ain’t Nobody,” the perfect energy-infused lead-in for the lady of the hour. Scott took to the stage, drink in hand, and filled the room with her powerhouse vocals. She wrapped her performance with the upbeat “Golden,” then addressed the crowd.  

“This year is 15 years since my first album came out,” Scott said. “I just want to say thank you so much for all the support over the years. The intention was to give you music that would touch your heart.” Mission accomplished.

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