"Hi, Mommy. I love you so much."
Aww. That's how Mary J. Blige kicked off Saturday night's taping of VH1's "Dear Mama" special, what the channel calls a "celebration of love and gratitude for mothers everywhere," recorded on the grounds of San Marino's Huntington Library. The special is to air on VH1 Monday at 10 p.m. PDT.
Blige was in good company, joining fellow R&B musicians Ludacris, Maxwell and Kelly Rowland, DJ Khaled and Clippers point guard Chris Paul — and their mothers, of course.
Hosted by comedian Anthony Anderson and TV personality La La Anthony (currently separated from NBA player Carmelo Anthony), the night kicked off with a three-course dinner before the stars took to the stage to pay tribute to their mothers.
Shot out of order because some of the talent arrived late, the night launched with Blige's dedication to her mother, Cora Blige. She read a letter she'd written for her mother, shivering and sniffling from both emotion and the evening's chilly temperature.
"You were strong because you had to be Mommy and Daddy," Blige said. "You are the strength of a woman."
Then, in a surprise gift and as a nod to the song her mom would sing "every night, every day" when Blige was growing up, Gladys Knight performed a pitch-perfect rendition of her Motown classic "Midnight Train to Georgia," which brought down the house.
Robin Thicke (introduced as "White Chocolate" by Anderson) tugged at heartstrings too, performing a tribute to his mom, Gloria Loring. Along with covers of the theme songs from '80s sitcoms "Diff'rent Strokes" and "The Facts of Life," which Loring originally performed, Thicke ended with a rendition of Loring's duet with Carl Anderson, "Friends and Lovers," with his mother joining him to sing.
Ludacris touched on the social challenges he faces as a black man and how his mom prepared him to overcome them.
"As a black male raised in the urban United States of America, one faced with many challenges, closed doors and obstacles, I guess you could say I've done pretty well for myself," he said. "A lot of people would say that I beat the odds, but I believe that a lot of my success is due to the fact that the first influential woman in my life would not let me believe in the odds."
A video montage showed DJ Khaled and his fiancee, Nicole Tuck, going through the daily routine of caring for their 6-month-old son, Asahd. Khaled then delivered a heartfelt dedication to Tuck without the aid of the teleprompter.
"You and God gave me my biggest blessing," he said. "I got you for life."
R&B group Jodeci serenaded the moms in attendance with "Forever My Lady." And following Maxwell's soulful, closing performance of "Fortunate," guests walked through the dimly lit gardens toward their cars. But they left with something to give their own mamas in just in time for Mother's Day this weekend: boxes of chocolates adorned with paper flowers.