Beyonce, who opened the show with a wind-swept rendition of her song "Halo," won the female artist category while Hudson, who performed "The Impossible Dream" for President's Award recipient Muhammad Ali, picked up the new artist award. They co-starred in the 2006 film "Dreamgirls."
"This is where we come from," Hudson said, accepting the trophy. "So it's always an honor to come home and feel welcome and to feel the love. I really cherish this and appreciate it."
Along with Beyonce and Hudson, will.i.am and Seal performed on stage at the Shrine Auditorium ceremony, which was hosted by actress Halle Berry and actor-screenwriter Tyler Perry. The show coincides with the 100th anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and kicks off a yearlong centennial celebration.
"The Secret Life of Bees" won for motion picture. "Grey's Anatomy" won for TV drama. Several of the winners were awarded before the live ceremony, including Chandra Wilson from "Grey's Anatomy" for actress in a drama series, Columbus Short from "Cadillac Records" for supporting actor in a motion picture and singer-actor Jamie Foxx for male artist.
Chris Brown, who's accused in a domestic dispute that reportedly involves pop superstar Rihanna, was up against Foxx with Common, John Legend and will.i.am for the male artist trophy. Rihanna was competing against Beyonce with Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and Mariah Carey for the female artist award. Neither Brown or Rihanna were in attendance.
Sean "Diddy" Combs picked up the TV movie actor trophy for his role in "A Raisin in the Sun." Other acting winners included Hill Harper for "CSI: NY," Tracee Ellis Ross for "Girlfriends," Taraji P. Henson for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and Will Smith and Rosario Dawson for "Seven Pounds."
The awards honor achievements and performances of people of color in TV, film, music and literature. Former Vice President Al Gore and Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai received the Chairman's Award. Boxing legend Ali won the President's Award. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons was given the Vanguard Award.
"I discovered that giving made me happy," Simmons said during his acceptance speech alongside daughters Ming and Aoki, who precariously held up his trophy and counted down his remaining speech time. "As you get older, that's the easy route, so it's always been such an easy thing. It seems kinda crazy to be honored for it."
The inspirational evening was accented with praise and appreciation for President Barack Obama, who received the Chairman's Award in 2005 but was not in attendance at this year's glitzy star-studded ceremony. Smith and others used their time in the Image Awards spotlight to show their love for the newly elected president.
"This is a rare opportunity for me," said Smith. "I stand on this stage today after a dream that I've dreamed for a long time because we have an African-American president. As a child, my parents always told me you could be whatever you want to be. You can do whatever you want to do."
The ceremony ended with Stevie Wonder performing his 1976 song "Black Man," which has lyrics referencing historic figures such as Sacagawea and Matthew Henson. During the song, hosts Berry and Perry recited the name-dropping refrain and added another person at the end: Obama. The audience enthusiastically raised tiny American flags in response.
By DERRIK J. LANG