This year’s Pre-Grammy Gala ran long. And it was packed to the rafters with the check-in line snaking all the way down the hall to the meetings rooms at the rear of the Beverly Hilton Hotel. But it was well worth the wait.
Presented by Clive Davis and The Recording Academy, the ninth Pre-Grammy Gala, guests heard moving tributes to the evening’s special honoree, Epic chairman/CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid and were treated to a series of knockout performances by Patti Smith, the Lumineers, Usher, Miguel, Emeli Sande and capped by a duet featuring Jennifer Hudson and the legendary Gladys Knight.
The night kicked off with a welcome from Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow. He then presented a short video clip showing Davis being presented with Billboard’s first Musical Visionary Award during the magazine’s inaugural Power 100 reception on Wednesday evening (Feb. 7). Introduced by CBS chairman/CEO Leslie Moonves, Clive Davis kicked off the proceedings with EDM guru Afrojack.
Over the next two and a half hours, a diverse lineup of talent fired up the stage from Patti Smith (“This is my first Grammy anything appearance”) and Emeli Sande (who drew a standing ovation from Joni Mitchell) to Grammy nominees the Lumineers (“We didn’t expect to be here”) and Miguel. Acknowledging the upcoming one-year anniversary of Whitney Houston’s death, Davis introduced a video clip of Houston singing “All the Man That I Need” during a concert for soldiers
Longtime friend/creative and business partner Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds who recalled to audience laughter that when he first met Reid, the latter was wearing spandex pants. “But he had a dream early on about wanting “to create a Motown of the South,” said Babyface of the inspiration behind the pair’s storied label La Face.
Then he brought out the “baby” of La Face, Usher. In between sharing special memories, a dynamic Usher sang snippets of songs tied to the La Face era, including “Every Time I Close My Eyes” and “U Got It Bad.” He also thanked Reid for not letting him go by his original stage name Cha Cha.
Before teaming with Portnow to present the President’s Merit Award to Reid, Sony Music Entertainment chairman/CEO Doug Morris noted that he and Reid (whom he also describe as a “consummate record man”) have a lot in common. “We move around a lot and sometimes it’s involuntarily.”
Reid hit the stage and first asked for another round of applause for Usher’s performance. “What Usher embodies is exactly why I do what I do,” he said. “I want people to feel music. When I watch a performance like that, I feel complete.” Going on to thank Davis, Babyface (“He discovered me; I didn’t know I could write”) and Portnow, Reid also paid tribute to his “boss and friend Doug Morris, the greatest music executive despite Billboard magazine’s poll.” He closed his remarks by issuing a challenge to the music industry: “I live for opening doors for the young generation of creators. If we do nothing else with our success, let’s open up some doors.”
Following the tribute, Emeli Sande took the stage for a knock-out two-song performance, which set the tone for the finale: a tribute to icon Gladys Knight. Jennifer Hudson, backed by a band led by “Tonight Show” music director Rickey Minor, belted out a stirring take on Knight’s “Where Peaceful Waters Flow.” Then Knight joined Hudson for a rollicking duet on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” before bringing down the house on her own with “Neither One of Us” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.”