The 36 year old was crowned Best Supporting Actress for her role in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained and Best Actress in a Drama Series for her turn in hit U.S. TV series Scandal, which also won Best Drama Series. In addition, she received the President's Award for her public service work on behalf of President Barack Obama.
She was also praised for breaking the colour barrier and becoming the first African-American woman to lead the cast of a primetime drama since Diahann Carroll in Julia over three decades ago.
Carroll praised the Scandal star, saying, “I think she’s enjoying one of the great moments of her life right now in our industry."
Joking as she stepped on stage to collect her final prize, she said, "Wow, OK, this is the last time that I even have a shot to be up here, just in case you're getting sick of me."
Meanwhile, George Lucas' film about the Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails, was named Best Motion Picture, and Flight's Denzel Washington and Won't Back Down's Viola Davis beat out the competition for Best Actor and Best Actress. Samuel L. Jackson nabbed the trophy for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Leonardo DiCaprio's sidekick in Django Unchained, and Beasts of the Southern Wild picked up the Best Independent Motion Picture trophy.
TV award winners included Don Cheadle (Actor in a Comedy Series for House of Lies), L.L. Cool J (Actor in a Drama Series for NCIS: Los Angeles), Omar Epps (Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for House M.D.), Vanessa Williams (Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Desperate Housewives), and Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special for Hallmark Hall of Fame's Firelight).
In the music categories, Usher and Alicia Keys were named the Best Male and Female Artist, and tragic Whitney Houston was honoured for Best Album (I Will Always Love You: The Best Of Whitney Houston) and Best Song (I Look To You).
The list of major winners is:
Motion Picture - Red Tails
Actor in a Motion Picture - Denzel Washington (Flight)
Actress in a Motion Picture - Viola Davis (Won't Back Down)
Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture - Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained)
Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture - Kerry Washington (Django Unchained)
Independent Motion Picture - Beasts of the Southern Wild
International Motion Picture - The Intouchables
Documentary - On the Shoulders of Giants - The Story of the Greatest Team You've Never Heard Of
TV Comedy Series - The Game
Actor in a Comedy Series - Don Cheadle (House Of Lies)
Actress in a Comedy Series - Cassi Davis (Tyler Perry's House of Payne)
Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series - Lance Gross (Tyler Perry's House of Payne)
Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series - Vanessa Williams (Desperate Housewives)
Drama Series - Scandal
Actor in a Drama Series - LL Cool J (NCIS: Los Angeles)
Actress in a Drama Series - Kerry Washington (Scandal)
Supporting Actor in a Drama Series - Omar Epps (House M.D.)
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series - Loretta Devine (Grey's Anatomy)
Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special - Steel Magnolias
Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special - Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Hallmark Hall of Fame's Firelight)
Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special - Alfre Woodard (Steel Magnolias)
Actor in a Daytime Drama Series - Kristoff St. John (The Young and the Restless)
Actress in a Daytime Drama Series - Tatyana Ali (The Young and the Restless)
News/ Information - (Series or Special) - Unsung
Talk Series - The View
Reality Series - Welcome to Sweetie Pie's
Variety Series or Special - Black Girls Rock
Children’s Program - Kasha and the Zulu King
Performance in a Youth/ Children’s Program - Loretta Devine (Doc McStuffins)
New Artist - Elle Varner
Male Artist - Usher
Female Artist - Alicia Keys
Duo, Group or Collaboration - Mary Mary
Jazz Album - The Preservation Hall 50th Anniversary Collection by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Gospel Album - Go Get It by Mary Mary
Music Video - Girl On Fire by Alicia Keys
Song - I Look To You by Whitney Houston and R. Kelly
Album - I Will Always Love You: The Best Of Whitney Houston by Whitney Houston
Spingarn Medal - Harry Belafonte
The actress/singer was due to make an appearance at the 2013 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Awards, where she was nominated for the Actress in a Comedy Series prize.
However, she fell down a flight of stairs on Wednesday (30Jan13) and didn't recover in time to attend the show.
She wrote in post on Twitter.com, "I am so clumsy, took an unexpected trip down my stairs smh (shaking my head) very sore little banged up but I'm okay..." before later adding, "My little fall was a little worse than I thought, was sad to miss the NAACP Awards... but I am so honoured to have been nominated!"
Riley went on to congratulate the eventual winner, Cassi Davis, who took the trophy for her role in Tyler Perry's House of Payne. She added, "Congrats (sic) Cassi Davis!... She's amazing."