Beyonce BET Awards
Beyonce gave a surprise performance of her song Freedom alongside Kendrick Lamar at the BET Awards 2016 REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

With a surprise performance from Beyonce and tributes to the late Prince and Muhammad Ali, the BET Awards 2016 may have enjoyed their biggest ceremony to date. Hosted by Black-ish stars Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson, the awards ceremony celebrated the biggest achievements and honoured heavy hitters in the black entertainment community over the last year and beyond.

Alicia Keys, Gabrielle Union, Ray J, Meagan Good, Taraji P Henson were among the stars who flocked to Los Angeles' Microsoft Theatre on 26 June 2016 for a night of entertainment and live music. As Hollywood recovers from its collective after-party hangover, IBTimes UK looks back at the night's best moments.

Beyonce drops in to open the show

BET president Debra Lee managed to execute a well-kept secret as nobody had any idea Queen Bey would open the show. The 34-year-old singer gave a rousing performance of her Lemonade single Freedom with her collaborator Kendrick Lamar joining later in the set.

Beginning with a Martin Luther King Jr speech playing out in the arena, Beyonce's dancers made their way to the stage dressed in tribal attire before the singer splashed about in water. The Black Lives Matter anthem set off the night's theme perfectly and received a standing ovation from the entire audience, including actor Samuel L Jackson and director Spike Lee.

Beyonce walked away the proud winner of four awards including best female/r'n'b pop artist and video of the year for Formation, while Drake earned three accolades for best collaboration with Rihanna for Work, best male hip-hop artist and best group with Future.

Prince tribute

When the 2016 Billboard Music Awards and Madonna were criticised for their tribute to legendary musician Prince, the BET Awards promised to do one better and what a segment it was. Throughout the three-hour show, various artists sporadically sang Prince covers with Jennifer Hudson taking on the late singer's classic Purple Rain, Erykah Badu performed The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker, and r'n'b and soul legend Maxwell belted out falsetto-heavy Nothing Compares 2 U.

Motown legend Stevie Wonder teamed up with Tori Kelly for Take Me With U, originally performed by Prince and Purple Rain co-star Apollonia, while Prince's protege Janelle Monae sang a medley of Delirious, Kiss and I Would Die 4 U. Closing the tribute, the singer's collaborator and ex-girlfriend Sheila E ran through a powerful 10-minute mélange of hits, including Erotic City and U Got The Look.

Addressing the momentous memoriam, according to Variety Debra Lee told reporters,: "We've been thinking about this since the moment that Prince passed away. We were lucky enough to pay tribute to him in a lifetime achievement award, but he's such an amazing artist that deserves an amazing tribute."

Jesse Williams speech

The Grey's Anatomy actor received the Humanitarian Award for his activism but Williams, 34, used his speech as an opportunity to praise others in the black community. The actor told the audience: "This award, this is not for me. This is for the real organisers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students, that are realising that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do...

"Now this is also in particular for the black women, in particular, who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you."

Elsewhere in the four-minute speech he said: "We've been floating this country on credit for centuries, and we're done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil, black gold. Ghettoising and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, just because we're magic, doesn't mean we're not real."

Williams' win was somewhatovershadowed by a tweet by singer Justin Timberlake which some have described as cultural appropriation.

Toni Braxton and Birdman go public

After weeks of dating rumours, Braxton, 48, and Cash Money CEO Birdman, 47, are reported to have gone public with their romance at the awards. The rumoured couple sat together and posed for pictures with Braxton resting her hand on the music mogul's arm. An eyewitness also told People magazine that the couple left the venue holding hands while a rep for Braxton allegedly confirmed their relationship. However when quizzed about the romance, Birdman told the publication: "We're just chillin'."