With the one-year anniversary of her death approaching, the Grammys gave the late pop titan a final sendoff on Thursday as they taped the upcoming tribute show, the “We Will Always Love You: A Grammy Salute to Whitney Houston” at Nokia Theatre.
Grammy executive producer Ken Ehrlich, who found it fitting that the show was being taped as a downpour of rain pounded the city, told the audience the show he didn’t want to focus on what happened in February.
Thursday’s show – it will air on CBS in November – was mostly celebratory as Halle Berry, Britney Spears, Neil Portnow and Clive Davis offered moving speeches, withJennifer Hudson, Usher, Yolanda Adams and CeCe Winans honoring the singer with performances.
“There’s so many people on this show that worked on that show … all of them knew and worked with Whitney,” Ehrlich said. “I really don’t want to say how difficult that was for us.”
The tribute paired the performances and testimonies with archival footage of Houston’s interviews and performances – though the clips concentrated heavily on her Grammy showings – as her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown and sister-in-law Pat Houston looked on from the audience.
Houston’s mother, Cissy, who performed during a tribute for the singer at this year’s BET Awards, was noticeably absent.
Spears spoke of how her version of Houston’s “I Have Nothing” scored her a record deal, Davis echoed his eulogy – the only time her death was explicitly referenced – and an emotional Berry made a tearful introduction to the singer who “personifies the word ‘icon.’’”
“She inspired a generation of little girls and women to believe in their own dream and to know that they had within themselves the greatest gift of all,” Berry said as she struggled through tears. “I was one of those little girls who then became a woman who never ever, ever, stopped loving Whitney Houston.”
Hudson, who stepped up to the plate to honor Houston at February’s ceremony with a stirring rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” delivered Houston’s more uptempo numbers. Flanked by dancers and channeling Houston circa 1987, she did a medley of “I’m Every Woman,” “How Will I Know” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
Usher offered “I Believe In You And Me” and gospel singers Yolanda Adams and Cece Winans closed with a powerful performance of “Count On Me”
Celine Dion is scheduled to tape a performance, but the audience Thursday watched a clip of her tackling “The Greatest Love Of All” a quarter of a century ago.
Houston’s signature tune, “I Will Always Love You,” which played earlier this year as the singer’s casket was carried at her service, was once again heard in her voice with a performance from the 1994 Grammy awards shown.
The special comes as a number of Houston-focused projects near. “The Houstons: On Our Own,” a Lifetime reality show focused on her family picking up after her death premieres Oct. 24 and an 18-track greatest hits set, “I Will Always Love You – The Best of Whitney Houston” — her first full posthumous release – arrives Nov. 13.
A photo tribute book, “Whitney: Tribute To An Icon,” featuring essays from Pat Houston and Davis, will be released Nov. 27 with proceeds going to one of the singer’s favorite charities and the estate, which Bobbi Kristina is the sole heir of.
The one-hour CBS special will be aired on Nov. 16.