Photos: Clive Davis, Alicia Keys, Diddy Pay Tribute to Whitney Houston at Pre-Grammy Gala
Photos: Clive Davis, Alicia Keys, Diddy Pay Tribute to Whitney Houston at Pre-Grammy Gala

Chief Creative Officer of Sony Music Clive Davis at the Clive Davis and the Recording Academy's 2012 Pre-GRAMMY Gala and Salute to Industry Icons Honoring Richard Branson at The Beverly Hilton Hotel. He said the late-Whtiney Houston "would have wanted the music to go on." (Photo: WireImage)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- You could hear a pin drop as Clive Davis took the stage at his and the Recording Academy's annual pre-Grammy gala Saturday night with a moment of silence in honor of Whitney Houston.

"Whitney was a beautiful person and a talent beyond compare. She graced this stage with her regal presence and gave so many memorable performances here over the years. Simply put, Whitney would have wanted the music to go on and her family asked that we carry on."

Read: Clive Davis' Comments About Whitney Houston at Pre-Grammy Gala

After the moment of silence Davis declared, "Let the music begin!" Then Tony Bennett took the stage and delivered a powerful reading of "How Do You Keep the Music Playing" and dedicated it to Houston. "I told Clive you finally got the greatest voice I ever heard," Bennett reflected. Next up was Diana Krall accompanying herself on the piano on "If I Had You."

Tony Bennett performing at the Clive Davis and the Recording Academy's 2012 Pre-GRAMMY Gala and who in the wake of Whitney Houston and other musicians' recent passings spoke about the need for legalizing drugs (WireImage)

Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said there was never the option of canceling the gala. "You could hear Whitney on your shoulder saying the show must go on."

He went on to say that tomorrow's show will feature Jennifer Hudson singing in tribute to Houston.

Sean "Diddy" Combs spoke about Whitney Houston's "beautiful smile" and "grandma hugs that shook your whole body." (Photo: WireImage)

Before formally introducing Davis and getting the rest of the gala started, Diddy shared his memories of Houston.

"Her beautiful smile, incredible energy and grandma hugs that shook your body ... That made me get dressed; her natural positive spirit. We should celebrate Whitney Houston tonight. Listening to her sing was like a gift from God." He then chanted three times: "Ain't no party like a Clive Davis party." And added, "We're about to start the party in honor of Whitney Houston and Diana Ross" (who was honored earlier in the day with a lifetime achievement award).

Then, the party got underway officially when Davis introduced the Kinks -- joined by Elvis Costello and Jackson Browne -- who tore into a medley of their hits including "Days," "All Day and All of the Night," "Lola" and "You Really Got Me," the latter of which had the audience on its feet singing and dancing along.

Ray Davies of the Kinks (right) performing with Elvis Costello (left). (Photo: WireImage)

During the rest of the evening-which ended at 12:40am PST-Houston's legacy and musical influence were celebrated the best way artists know how: through music. An arresting Miranda Lambert was up next, followed by Pitbull and Ne-Yo's rousing performance of their hit "Tonight" that let the audience momentarily forget the sadness as they fervently sang and danced along to the song's mesmerizing rhythms. "I know it's an awkward night," said Pitbull. "But I heard Whitney Houston liked to motherf'n party."

Ne-Yo (left) and Pitbull who sang "Tonight." (WireImage)

Then Alicia Keys brought everything into perspective as she sat at the piano and talked about losing someone you love. "There are so many things … when you lose someone you love, then you think back to how much this person touched your life," she said before launching into a snippet of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody"- a Whitney song she liked as a young girl. "Whitney was the barometer of what I hoped for and dreamed about," recalled Keys. "Then you meet the person and you form this friendship/sisterhood bond. The same man who helped her dreams come true made mine come true." She segued into an instrumental reading of "New York State of Mind" followed by "Empire State of Mind" and "No One." To warm and hearty applause, she noted, "All the love in here is so pure."

Alicia Keys, said of the late-Whitney Houston that, "Whitney was the barometer of what I hoped for and dreamed about." (WireImage)

This year the pre-Grammy gala-aka Grammy Salute to Industry Icons-honored Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin record label. Describing him as "visionary, groundbreaking and fearless," Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow introduced a video encompassing Branson's career, including comments by Janet Jackson and Peter Gabriel, before bringing Jane Fonda onstage to present the award to Branson.

Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnoy and actress Jane Fonda. (WireImage)

"When I see his footprints, I see hope, inspiration and change," said Fonda. "And I think, 'Oh, Lord, let him keep going with his mane, sprinkling gold dust and changing the world.'"

Alternately funny and serious, Branson talked about the sense of "joy and camaraderie in the music industry" before sharing his "painful experience with Fonda. He had gotten circumcised at 21 and "even more foolishly I watched Fonda in 'Barbarella" the next day and ended up splitting my stitches." Amid other comic anecdotes about the Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols and Peter Tosh ("I sat outside his house for three days" before Tosh signed with him), Branson also noted he was involved in an organization that advocates treating all drugs as a health issue instead of a criminal issue-dovetailing with a comment Tony Bennett made before his performance about decriminalizing drugs.

The evening's honoree Sir Richard Branson (center) flanked by Kim Kardashian (left) and Britney Spears (right). (Photo: WireImage)

Returning to the stage, Davis-who earlier described himself as "devastated"- spoke about Houston attending the show's rehearsals all this week and how he chatted with her in his bungalow about the performance lineup. He then brought Wiz Khalifa ("Whitney loved rap," he recalled) and Jessie J to the floor. Noted the latter about her idol, "Sadly, I thought I was going to meet her this evening. I would not be me without her."

Brandy and Monica, who were slated to perform as well, were too grief-stricken to sing but were in the audience. Rounding out the evening: a short tribute to Diana Ross, who received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy earlier that day. Marsha Ambrosius sang the "Theme From Mahogany" followed by Jamie Foxx, who walked to where Ross was sitting with her family as he delivered the spoken word intro to one of her memorable hits: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." After some coaxing, she broke into the song's refrain. Escorted by Foxx to the stage, Ross capped the evening as she exuberantly led the audience in a brief sing-along of the song.

In addition to Fonda and Foxx, the star- and executive-studded audience included production duos Stargate and the Underdogs, Valerie Simpson, Kelly Rowland, Serena Williams, Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa, Joni Mitchell, Berry Gordy, L.A. Reid, Neil Young, Sly Stone, Dr. Dre, Sony/ATV's Martin Bandier and WB's Lyor Cohen, among others.

From left: Chairmand/CEO of Epic Records and "X Factor" Judge Antonio L.A. Reid; founder and CEO of Bad Boy Entertainment and rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs; and Motown founder Berry Gordy (Photo: WireImage)

Miranda Lambert performing (Photo: WireImage)

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Universal Music Group Lucian Grainge (left) and "American Idol" executive producer Nigel Lygothe. (WireImage)

A Whitney Houston memorial popped up on Wilshire by the Beverly Hilton, where the singer died and the site of the Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Party. When the first party guests arrived, a crime lab truck could be seen parked near the valet area. (Photo: Bill Werde)

Producer Swizz Beatz, singer Alicia Keys, who performed at the gala, producer Sean 'Diddy' Combs and singer Cassie (WireImage)