By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated June 06, 2002 11:00 AM

Janet Jackson was voted “Entertainer of the Year” by more than 35,000 people responding to a poll by Essence magazine, for “a lifetime of sharing her talent in unforgettable performances with trend-setting style.” Jackson was on hand to give thanks at the awards ceremony, held May 31 at the Universal Amphitheater in Southern California (but first broadcast on Thursday night on Fox TV). Throughout her acceptance speech, Jackson, 36, was greeted with shouts of “We love you!” from the audience. As the interruptions continued, Jackson declared, “I believe what we’re celebrating tonight has to do with the strength of black women — despite obstacles that have been with us since slavery and even until now, whether imposed upon us by others or by ourselves.” Clutching her award, she added, “Black women have been the backbone of our community. . . . I really do hope that I have helped to have contributed to this tradition of breaking barriers and help carving the way for other women, women of all creeds and colors, the way others have done for me. Thank you so much, God; thank you so much, Essence; thank you to all those who made this award possible.” Other recipients included Alicia Keys, India.Arie and Halle Berry, USA Today reports. Of the experience, Berry, 35, told the audience: “Although it was wonderful to stand in front of millions and millions of people on Oscar night, I cannot tell you how good it feels to be standing here in front of my own.” (Essence, like PEOPLE, is part of AOL Time Warner.)