Whitney Houston Returns At Clive Davis Grammy Bash

Whitney Houston, once upon a time.
An exuberant Whitney Houston kept the Beverly Hilton Ballroom audience on its feet during a major comeback 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, Houston 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."

The artist, one of the biggest superstars of the 1980s and '90s, has been dogged by drug and personal problems since the dawn of the decade. She is expected to release a new album before year's end under the direction of Davis, who steered her largest successes years ago.

Houston's crowd-pleasing finale capped the new incarnation of 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," the gala served as a tribute to Davis.

That 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 protege, Sean "Diddy" Combs" who, with Faith Evans, reprised his 1997 tribute to the Notorious B.I.G., "I'll Be Missing You."

Despite the Recording Academy imprint, the gala remained Davis' show. Opening with Rod Stewart, the lineup included 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 with an impassioned version of her hit single, "Spotlight."

As in years past, Davis showed video clips of past galas and namechecked a good portion of the ballroom, which held more than 300 tables. Among the glitterati in attendance: 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, Trace Adkins and will.i.am.

In an evening full of noteworthy sights and performances, Kanye West came onstage toward the end of the evening to deliver a surprising mea culpa.

"What I've learned after seeing the legends here is to have more respect for the game," said the rapper/songwriter/producer. "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."

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