An emotional Clive Davis called Whitney Houston “a beautiful person who had talent beyond compare” as he addressed the crowd at his pre-Grammy fete Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, hours after the death of his talented but troubled protege.
Meanwhile, CBS and Grammy Awards producers scrambled at the Staples Center Saturday night to revise the broadcast to acknowledge Houston’s death. Exec producer Ken Ehrlich wound up recruiting Jennifer Hudson to perform a tribute to Houston, as CBS confirmed in a tweet.
There had been speculation that Davis, the mogul who launched Houston’s career on his Arista label, would sit out his annual star-packed party after the shocking news of his protege’s untimely passing earlier in the day at the age of 48, following years of well-publicized problems with substance abuse.
Davis took the stage shortly after 9:30 p.m. and said that he was “personally devastated by the loss,” noting that Houston had “graced this stage with her regal presence so many times.” He said that Houston “would have wanted the music to go on” and said that her family had asked that the party’s planned performances continue. He called for a moment of silence, which was followed by the appearance of Tony Bennett.
Bennett surprised many in the crowd by calling on the government to legalize drugs, after noting the recent passings of Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse “and now the magnificent Whitney Houston.”
Bennett cited the situation in Amsterdam, where certain drugs are legal, which he called “a very sane city.” After his remarks, Bennett segued into the Patti Austin hit “How Do You Keep the Music Playing.”
Recording Academy prexy and CEO Neil Portnow, who once worked for Davis, also spoke at the party, recalling the time he saw Houston perform an early solo show at Hollywood’s Vine Street Bar and Grill. “You could tell this was going to be the star of all stars,” he said.
Portnow said they never considered canceling the party. “You could hear Whitney saying ‘C’mon guys, this is show business. The show must go on.'” Houston’s legacy, he added, “will be here forever.
Sean Combs was also among the speakers who took the stage to laud Houston’s memory.
The vibe inside and outside the Hilton bordered on the surreal amid the media frenzy that erupted after word of Houston’s death spread Saturday afternoon. Many of the music biz luminaries attending the party were visibly stunned by the news.
At the Hilton, the usual paparazzi turnout Davis’ bash grew exponentially as media outlets around the world sought reaction and details of Houston’s death — particularly because Davis played such an instrumental role in Houston’s career. According to media reports, the singer was found dead at Hilton earlier in the day.
A source at the hotel said singer Dionne Warwick and other members of Houston’s family were seen entering the hotel late Saturday afternoon.
With the media swarm, the security and police presence around the Hilton was dramatically increased, as uniformed officers virtually ringed the hotel’s perimeter around Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards.
Although the mood was somber, the affair continued largely business as usual with a red carpet for the stars and schmoozing in the International Ballroom prior to the sit-down dinner.