The Grammy Awards shifted into a Whitney Houston memorial, where attendees celebrated the pop star and the show hurriedly assembled a tribute featuring Jennifer Hudson.
Grammy show producer Ken Ehrlich turned to Hudson, the actress and “American Idol” finalist, last night after the 48-year-old Houston was found dead in her hotel room at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Ehrlich said there wasn’t enough time for a “full-blown tribute,” but that the show had to “recognize Whitney’s remarkable contribution to music fans in general.”
With just hours to prepare a fitting tribute, the Grammys had to act quickly.
“Musicians, by nature, improvise,” said Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, on the red carpet before the show. Portnow said the tribute was the result of hours of frantic phone calls in the aftermath of Houston’s death.
The vibe of the awards was altered from simple party to a kind of wake of one of music’s most beloved stars. Houston won six Grammys in her career and had been expected to perform at the pre-awards gala Saturday night thrown by music impresario Clive Davis.
“Whenever there’s tragedy, family pulls together _ and this is my family,” said producer Jimmy Jam. “There’s going to a little bit of everything tonight, and that’s how the emotions should be.”
“I’m glad we’re all together to grieve together,” said Bonnie Raitt.
For those who were particularly close to Houston, the evening was a difficult one. Just days before, on Thursday, R&B singer Kelly Price performed a duet of “Yes, Jesus Loves Me” with Houston at a pre-Grammy celebration.
“I’m here,” said an emotional Price, a friend and a frequent collaborator with Houston. “She gave the genre of R&B music a gift that can never be denied.”
The night was in many ways transformed into one dedicated to Houston, with heartfelt reaction from across genres.
“Few people will ever touch the world as much as Whitney Houston,” said country star Billy Ray Cyrus.
Musicians who grew up in the 1980s recognized the loss a soundtrack to their youth. R&B singer Ledisi burst into a warm, impromptu rendition of Houston’s “How Will I Know” on the red carpet.
“It’s a very somber tone tonight at the Grammys because we lost our hero,” R&B singer Kelly Rowland told E! “My heart is heavy.”
The Grammys were far from alone in honoring Houston. Reaction continued to pour in on social media. BET, MTV and VH1 ran tributes to the singer Sunday. Oprah Winfrey said she would remember Houston in a two-hour tribute Thursday on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
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