An exuberant Whitney Houston kept the Beverly Hilton ballroom audience on its feet during a rousing performance at last night’s (Feb. 7) pre-Grammy Gala saluting Clive Davis. Dressed in a leopard skin-patterned, form-fitting sheath and matching overcoat, the strong-voiced diva alternately slinked, strutted and skipped across the stage during a four-song set that included brief renditions of “I Will Always Love You” and “I Believe in You and Me” plus a tent-revival take on “I’m Every Woman.”

Houston’s crowd-pleasing finale capped the new incarnation of veteran label executive Clive Davis’ 30-year annual pre-Grammy soiree. The legacy event is now a joint venture between Sony Music Worldwide’s chief creative officer and The Recording Academy.

In addition to high-wattage performances by Jennifer Hudson--including her surprise duet with Barry Manilow on "Weekend in New England"--and others, the gala included The Recording Academy’s tradition of the last several years: its salute to industry icons. Davis was this year’s recipient, joining previous honorees Berry Gordy, Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, Mo Ostin and Ahmet Ertegun.

The Davis tribute segment included humorous comments by actor/singer Jamie Foxx (“I have a legitimate recording career because of Clive Davis …and my new album ‘Intuition’ is available now”), the award presentation by Recording Academy president Neil Portnow (“You are the ultimate music man”) and personal tributes by Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. The latter pair also introduced another Davis protégé, Sean “Diddy” Combs” who, with Faith Evans, reprised his 1997 hit “I'll Be Missing You."

Despite The Recording Academy imprint, the gala remained Davis’ show. He introduced a host of marquee performances during a three-hour period. Opening with Rod Stewart, the lineup included the Kings of Leon, Josh Groban (filling in for Usher who canceled owing to a serious illness in his family), Kelly Clarkson and Leona Lewis. Prior to Houston's performance, Hudson earned her own standing ovation as the current Grammy nominee walked onstage to render an impassioned version of her hit single “Spotlight.”

As in years past, Davis showed video clips of past galas and name checked a good portion of the ballroom, which held some 300+ tables. And, as in years past, a wide swath of old and new school notables from within and outside the industry were in attendance. Among the glitterati: Paul McCartney, a a blonde-mohawked Sly Stone (who elicited a roar from the crowd), Prince, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Quincy Jones, the Jonas Brothers, Katy Perry, Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas, Jon Voight, Trace Adkins, will.i.am and Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa.

In an evening full of noteworthy sights and performances, Kanye West came onstage toward the end of the evening to deliver an interesting mea culpa: “What I’ve learned after seeing the legends here is to have more respect for the game,“ said the rapper/songwriter/producer. “Seeing all these legends out here, I have more respect for the game. I was embarrassed by my pompous behavior last year. You don’t choose the Grammy. It chooses you. I could say [my behavior] was part of the black hip-hop [culture] but I can’t use that anymore. It was a tough year for me. But I’ve grown so much. And I want to take pop to a new level of respect, like Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince. To cut through and provide the best music; provide something people need. The reason why I’m saying all this is I appreciate the people in this room. I’m humbled by your greatness and Clive’s.”

For full coverage of the 51st annual Grammy Awards, click here.

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