(CNN)The most popular group at Sunday night’s BET Awards has never had a record deal.
Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam are now known as the Exonerated Five, and they received a standing ovation.
Their story was the basis of the Netflix limited series “When They See Us,” which dramatized their experiences of being wrongly convicted in a 1989 rape case in New York. The show has stoked strong feelings about how they were mistreated, subsequent struggles and eventual exoneration.
The 19th annual event celebrates the best in African-American culture.
The show kicked off with a performance by the most-nominated artist of the night, Cardi B.
Tyler Perry turned the stage into a pulpit while receiving the Ultimate Icon Award.
Perry, who went from writing and starring in plays to owning his own studio, spoke about learning to turn pain into powerful stories.
“When I built my studio, I built it in a neighborhood that is one of the poorest black neighborhoods in Atlanta, so that young kids could see that a black man did that and they can do it, too,” Perry said. “The studio was once a Confederate army base, which meant that there were Confederate soldiers on that base plotting and planning on how to keep 3.9 million Negroes enslaved. Now that land is owned by one Negro.”
Mary J. Blige was presented a lifetime achievement award from Rihanna and performed a medley of her hits.