Following a ceremony dedicated to the King of Pop, who died suddenly on Thursday, the crowd fell silent as Jackson strode onstage.
She fought back tears as she said, "My entire family wanted to be here tonight, but it was just too painful, so they elected me to be here to speak with you.
"To you Michael was an icon. To us, Michael is family and he will forever live in all of our hearts.
"On behalf of my family and myself, thank you for all of your love, and for all your support. We miss him so much."
Jackson's father Joseph was also at the event, and spoke briefly with reporters on the red carpet, telling them, "I wish the world had recognized him when he was living. Right now, he's bigger than ever. But I wish he was here to see all this, to hear all this."
Inside, the star-studded event kicked off with a reunion of New Edition, including Bobby Brown, to perform a medley of Jackson Five songs.
The ceremony was hosted by Jamie Foxx, who honored Jackson throughout the night by appearing in a number of Jackson-inspired outfits -- and even Moonwalked the length of the stage at Hollywood's Shrine Auditorium, to the delight of the celeb-packed crowd that included Sean 'Diddy' Combs, Kanye West and Rihanna.
He closed the event with an emotional duet of Jackson track "I'll Be There," with R&B star Ne-Yo.
Foxx was also joined onstage by T-Pain, Snoop Dogg and drummer Travis Barker to perform a spectacular version of his hit "Blame It on the Alcohol," which earned Foxx and T-Pain the Best Collaboration award.
Other performers included Soulja Boy, Lil' Wayne, Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce, who performed "Ava Maria" wearing a tutu and tiara -- and then picked up the Best Female R&B award, dedicating it to Jackson, who she called "my hero and my teacher."
Her hit "Single Ladies" also won her the Video of the Year award.
Jailed rapper T.I. won the Viewer's Choice award for "Live Your Life," his collaboration with Rihanna. His girlfriend Tameka 'Tiny' Cottle picked up the award in his absence and paid tribute to her beau, who's serving a year-long sentence on guns charges.
The main list of BET Award winners is as follows:
Best Male Athlete - LeBron James
Best Male Hip Hop - Lil Wayne
Best Collaboration - Jamie Foxx ft T-Pain
Best Male R&B Artist - Ne-Yo
Best Actress - Taraji P Henson
Best New Artist - Keri Hilson
Best Female R&B Artist - Beyonce
Video of the Year - Beyonce, for "Single Ladies"
Viewer's Choice Award - T.I. ft Rihanna ("Live Your Life")
Lifetime Achievement Award - The O'Jays
Humanitarian Award - Alicia Keys & Wyclef Jean
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