BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - Cicely Tyson performed a Langston Hughes poem as she accepted a lifetime achievement award from Ebony magazine.
Adding years and grit to her voice, Tyson recited "Mother to Son" from memory, telling the audience at the magazine's annual Power 100 gala Thursday that "Life for me ain't been no crystal stair." When she got to the line about "don't you turn back," people cheered.
It was a moving moment in a jubilant evening celebrating the achievements of black leaders in business, science, education and entertainment. Cedric the Entertainer hosted the private ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Tyson said that while she's grateful for the lifetime achievement honors and "indebted" to late Ebony founder John Johnson, it may be too soon for her to receive such recognition.
"How do these people know that I've already lived my life?" quipped the 91-year-old actress, whose recent credits include "How to Get Away With Murder" and "House of Cards."
Actress Regina King, who presented Tyson's award, introduced her as "a national treasure."
The surviving members of Earth, Wind & Fire also received lifetime achievement honors. Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson dedicated the award to band founder Maurice White, who died earlier this year.
Actor Craig Robinson presented a special award to musician and composer Nile Rodgers, who accepted by performing a hit-packed set of songs from his catalog.
"We play music to make you dance, so I want you to get up," Rodgers said.
Backed by an eight-piece band, he brought the crowd to its feet with the Daft Punk/Pharrell smash "Get Lucky," the Diana Ross disco jam "I'm Coming Out," David Bowie's "Let's Dance" and the Chic hits "Freak Out" and "Good Times."
Ebony's list of Power 100 honorees - which includes Beyonce, LeBron James, Simone Biles and the Obamas - appears in the December-January issue.