What happens when you match great songs with talented singers? Saturday night’s (Feb. 7) seventh annual Pre-Grammy Gala at the Beverly Hilton, that’s what. But while contemporary performers like Sam Smith, John Legend and Pharrell Williams shined, it was a contingent of classic stars — notably Johnny Mathis and Carole King — who stole the spotlight at the sold-out gala.
Presented by the legendary Clive Davis and The Recording Academy one day before Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, the evening also saluted Sony/ATV Music Publishing chairman/CEO Martin Bandier as this year’s Industry Icon.
Long before the formal presentation, however, it was all about the music. Multiple Grammy nominee Smith got the ball rolling with a moving cover of the standard “My Funny Valentine,” then whoops and applause greeted Smith’s segue into his smash hit “Stay With Me.”
Up next was the first of several mash-ups. On paper, the pairing of Motown legend Smokey Robinson (75), Aloe Blacc, JC Chasez and Miguel might not sound like it would work, but the unlikely foursome delivered a winning take on the Robinson co-write “My Girl.” The performance was taken up a notch when the microphone was handed to audience member Jamie Foxx for some impromptu riffing and then Earth, Wind & Fire‘s Philip Bailey, whose sublime falsetto elicited screams. Blige, who teamed with Robinson’s suave tenor on “Being With You,” earned a standing ovation for her powerful rendering of “Doubt,” a track from her London Sessions album.
But it was Johnny Mathis who had the whole room on its feet before singing even one note. The 79-year-old cruised effortlessly through his biggest hits (“It’s Not For Me to Say,” “Chances Are,” “Wonderful Wonderful” and “Misty”).
Prefacing the presentation of the President’s Merit Award to Bandier, Carole King, 72, led the room in an all-star sing-along to “You’ve Got a Friend.” The video screen jumped from shots of Tyrese, Ricky Martin, Common, Blige and others in the audience joining her word for word. Also celebrating Bandier in song was Pharrell Williams, who had folks dancing to Daft Punk‘s “Get Lucky” and “Happy.”
Following a funny video clip about Bandier’s life and career, directed by David Steinberg and narrated by Bob Costas, the man himself came to the stage, thanking his family “for allowing me to indulge in my passion for music and songwriting.” The first music publisher to receive the Academy’s industry icon award, Bandier also noted to hearty applause, “I’ve always felt songwriters have never received the respect they deserve. They don’t do brand deal or share in lucrative touring; they’re not being adequately compensated in today’s digital world. We’re celebrating my success but I wouldn’t be here tonight without the songwriter I’ve worked with and care for. I’m going to make sure they will be fairly paid.”
Closing the evening was a tribute to the Bee Gees, who earlier in the day received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy. Doing a medley of the group’s hits was Pentatonix followed by Barry Gibb, who commanded attention with an emotional take on “To Love Somebody.” Also on deck: performances by Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora (“Black Widow”), Azalea and Jennifer Hudson (“Trouble”), Legend (“All of Me”), and Meghan Trainor and Legend (“Like I’m Gonna Lose You”).