LOS ANGELES – Beneath towering arches in an old cathedral downtown, a 20-member choir welcomed guests at the BET Awards pre-party with a rousing gospel tune.
Nelly, Ashanti, Jermaine Dupri and Jill Scott were among those who gathered Monday at Vibiana — a majestic church built in 1876 — for a private dinner hosted by Black Entertainment Television chairman Debra Lee.
As preparations for Tuesday's BET Awards, which recognize the best in black entertainment in 15 categories, continued at the nearby Shrine Auditorium, nominees, sponsors and industry executives dined and danced in honor of the occasion.
• Photo Essays: Click here to see photos from the pre-party
• Photo Essays: Click here to see photos of the nominees
"This night gives us a reason to celebrate," Lee said. "We're truly honored to be able to recognize the artists who are so important in our community. Not just the music, but the actors and athletes."
Nominee Soulja Boy said he was glad to be included.
"I hope I win," the 17-year-old rapper said. "The BET Awards represents me, where I come from and everything."
He was especially excited about seeing fellow nominee Lil Wayne perform on the show.
Dupri, a producer who has worked with Mariah Carey and Usher, said he still gets a thrill from seeing celebs at the BET Awards.
"You get all the stars under one roof," he said. "And it continues to grow."
The historic cathedral took on a tropical vibe, thanks to bouquets of pink and purple orchids atop lime green tablecloths. Partygoers, including MC Lyte and Tyrese, boogied on the dance floor before sitting down to a dinner of lobster-and-grapefruit salad followed by a grilled veal chop.
Scott, who is set to perform a tribute to lifetime achievement award honoree Al Green on Tuesday's show, kept things cooking into the night with a spirited set backed by an 11-piece band.