The BET Awards show in 2010 was extra special. People were elated to see the Best International Act added to the categories at the American awards show that commemorates Black entertainment. For the first time in its then tenth year of broadcast, nominations were given to some of the most talented African and UK Artists, including P-Square, K’NAAN, Estelle, M.I., Kojo Antwi, Sade, and Dizzee Rascal. The following year, BET Networks surprised its audience even more by creating two separate categories for The Best International Act — Best International Act: Africa, and Best International Act: UK.
And the above was largely thanks to the tremendous work of Lilian Blankson. The Ghanaian American, who was Director of Programming at BET International, was, among others, instrumental in the selection of these artists.
With a passion to bring exposure to African Entertainment by showcasing African talent to the western audience, Blankson had joined BET Networks in 2000 to do that and more. From the moment she walked in, it was critical for her to make an impact, and that was to help bridge the gap between the African and the American entertainment industries.
“When I first started, they didn’t want to hear about Africa. There was no interest. But the world is changing and two years, it’s actually close to three, we launched in Africa,” Blankson said in her acceptance speech at the 2011 FACE List Awards in New York City organized by Face2Face Africa. The content creator, writer and producer was honored for having paved the way for the younger generation and impacted the discourse on pan-Africa’s image, its future, and potential.
Indeed, Blankson had always preached about “integrating Africa” and how young people can change perceptions about the continent. Her journey at BET started with the Sports, Specials & Primetime Division. She helped in managing each division and soon learned her way around television production and the entertainment business in general. Becoming Senior Manager of Specials, she created and owned her roles which included overseeing the balloting process for the BET Awards, Hip Hop Awards, and the Comedy Awards.
Watch Lilian’s acceptance speech at the FACE List Awards below:
One of her greatest moments was in January 2008 when she was selected to help in the launch and operation of BET Networks’ International channel in the UK, Ireland, Africa and the Middle East. She would later serve in various roles: Director of Programming, Content Writer and Producer, Talent Relations and consulting on African Programming. All the while, she was committed to the advancement and positive promotion of Africa and its artists.
Apart from her involvement in BET’s profiles of African artists, a Ghanaian Cypher with D-Black, Sarkodie, Kwaku T, Ayigbe Edem, Tinny, BabyG and Reggie Rockstone that she produced, arranged and directed made history. It garnered over 50,000 views collectively in less than a week and was included as part of the BET Hip-Hop Awards exclusively for the international channel.
An accomplished writer, Blankson has written for various publications including Vibe, Newsweek, and Essence magazines. Her first book, Rain Love Poetry & Portraits — a coffee table book with exquisite portraits that masterfully portray poetry — has been sold throughout the US, the UK, Ghana, and Nigeria.
With a distinguished 22-year career in the fields of entertainment and television, Blankson sadly passed away on Sunday, July 4. Tributes from the world of entertainment have been pouring in for the content creator and producer. Among those celebrating her life is co-founder of Face2face Africa, Sandra Appiah.
“10 years ago, when we launched the FACE List awards, we set out to find unsung heroes in our community who were elevating the African narrative. Lilian Blankson was definitely one of those people.
“She leveraged her role as Director at BET to bring exposure to the African music industry at a time when not many people considered the industry viable. She was instrumental in the creation of the BET Awards Africa category which opened doors for many African artists and helped launch their international career. Today, we mourn the tragic loss of our dear Lilian, but we will forever remember her as a hero and a true giant of Africa! RIP Lilian Blankson.”
Before her passing, the former BET director was the record label head of LNB Entertainment, where she oversaw and managed the solo career of Nigerian superstar Wondaboy. She had also created and designed African concerts and music specials as well as unveiled a book of African Short Stories: Awaiting Fate & Other Talking Texts on Amazon.