A year after her death, Whitney Houston will be remembered at Feb. 9’s Pre-Grammy Gala, her mentor Clive Davis tells billboard.biz. Houston died the afternoon of last year’s Feb. 11 event.
“I’m working it out in my own head,” Davis said Thursday afternoon, of how Houston will be honored. “Here it is Thursday, prior to Saturday. Will [her death] be remembered? Yes. Will I make a move to have it remembered? Yes, but you’re going to have to wait ‘till Saturday night to see what’s done.”
Davis also remained mum on the evening’s performers, other than five-time Grammy nominee Miguel, who was seated beside him at the Beverly Hilton, the site of Saturday night’s gala.
When answering questions, Davis often looked directly at the new artist, as if he was schooling him on not only his legendary history, but music history, and Miguel soaked it all in.
Davis handpicks the performers for the evening and has used the annual party, always held the night before the Grammys, as a platform to introduce burgeoning artists, including Alicia Keys and Gavin DeGraw in past years. Highlighting Miguel, whose song “Adorn” has topped Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart for 21 weeks, was a “no brainer,” Davis says. “It was a very easy choice. The song is a great song and totally deserves its nominations. I really watched footage of Miguel because I do consider carefully, knowing that it’s an opportunity.” Davis’ mandate for Miguel and Saturday night’s other performers: “lift the audience out of their chairs.”
Miguel maintained his calm about performing before such expected luminaries as Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, John Mayer, Puffy, Mary J. Blige, and movie producer Brian Grazer until Davis said to him, “You know who you’re going to see who you don’t know you’re going to see who’s going to knock you out? Sly Stone.” Miguel broke into a wide grin, nodded, and said, “Now I got it!”
The R&B singer first attended the party last year and raved about seeing Elvis Costello perform at the event: “It’s a great juxtaposition of artists on an unforgettable stage, a classic and legendary party. It’s always a good time with lots of alcohol.”
“Free alcohol,” Davis stressed.
The evening will also honor Antonio “L.A.” Reid as this year’s industry Icon. Davis recalls first working with Reid and Reid’s then-production/writing partner Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds in the late ‘80s, while he was running Arista Records. Houston was coming off of 7 No. 1 pop hits, and he and the singer wanted to showcase her urban side. “The R&B world was changing to I couldn’t just continue in my tradition of going to publishers and to writers and seeing what the music was. So I went to L.A. and Babyface. They had had 19 No. 1 R&B records, but not one pop No. 1,” Davis recalls. The “good marriage” yielded not only the smash single (and album title track) “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” which topped both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Singles chart, it also led to Reid and Edmonds’ label, LaFace, coming to Arista.
“So my memory is replete with not only of Whitney and them, but LaFace Records and the wonderful artists they pioneered, so to celebrate that and for him to be the Icon this year is very special and personal,” Davis says.
The event usually includes a number of artists up for Grammy Awards the following night. With this year’s nominations dominated with such new and still developing artists as Miguel, fun., Frank Ocean, Alabama Shakes and Mumford & Sons, Davis says it’s a fertile time for music. “This is probably the best crop of new artists that I can remember,” he says. “The artists, they’re unique, they’re special, there’s creativity, it’s cutting edge. It’s not cookie cutter. I think it bodes very well for the industry and the future of music.”