Beginning with the Imagine Dragons and ending with a performance by Whitney Houston, the Beverly Hilton ballroom rocked for over three hours (lights out at 12:46 am) during last evening’s Pre-GRAMMY Gala and Salute to Industry Icons. And between sets, co-host and icon himself Clive Davis — who had a career-spanning chat earlier in the week — name-checked a bevy of celebs from all facets of the industry, many of whom were included on Billboard’s annual Power 100 list, revealed last Thursday evening.
The evening started with the salute to this year’s icon honoree, Universal Music Group chairman Lucian Grainge (No. 2 on this year’s Power 100). Imagine Dragons opened with “It’s Time” and “Radioactive” before turning the stage over to Lionel Richie (“Easy,” “All Night Long”).
A humorous video came next in which Grainge implores everyone from U2 and Taylor Swift to Irving Azoff and Bon Jovi to make a tribute video for him — at first to no avail. Calling Grainge “the ultimate music man,” Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow formally presented the award to Grainge.
Thanking colleagues and family, Grainge noted, “We’re all here tonight for music; to create opportunities for artists to bring their music to the world. It’s a mission I know we all share.”
Introduced by Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine, Clive Davis turned the rest of the evening into a concert/jam session. Between name-checking everyone from Quincy Jones to Taylor Swift and Rihanna and eschewing his usual practice of showing clips from past galas, Davis welcomed Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, A Great Big World, R. Kelly, Jennifer Hudson, a demurely-dressed Miley Cyrus (lilac fur coat and slinky white mini-dress), Pharrell Williams, Lorde and Fantasia to the stage.
The night’s set list featured dynamic solos and invigorating mash-ups. After Richie left Miguel, Pharrell and the rest of the audience dancing at their seats, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis revved up the proceedings with “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us.” Then A Great Big World weighed in with its hit “Say Something.”
Accompanied by African-garbed dancers and a drummer and later a choir, R. Kelly took a serious turn with a song in tribute to Nelson Mandela. John Fogerty ripped into the Creedence Clearwater Revival hits “Born on the Bayou,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and “Bad Moon” before teaming up with Jennifer Hudson on “Proud Mary” and then the Foo Fighters.
Cyrus led her three-song slot with “Get It Right” and then the Dolly Parton hit “Jolene,” noting that maybe the latter song “was better for this crowd.” She wrapped with “Wrecking Ball,” which got a strong response. Among the songs Pharrell performed were “Happy,” then Hudson joined him doing her single “Can’t Describe.” Jumping onstage next with Pharrell were T.I. and Robin Thicke on the latter’s Grammy-nominated “Blurred Lines.” A well-received Lorde performed “Royals” as the clock edged its way to midnight. Taking a night off from her Broadway show “After Midnight,” Fantasia delivered a riveting performance of the standard “Stormy Weather,” which elicited a standing ovation.
Then mirroring the past, Whitney Houston closed the show — this time by way of a 1994 clip from the American Music Awards. In it she sings a medley of “I Loves You Porgy,” “And I Am Telling You” and her own “I Have Nothing.”
Sharing that he is working on Houston’s first live album, Davis added, “I’m the keeper of the flame for Whitney Houston. I don’t want anyone in this room or the world to forget that.”
The conga line of bold-faced names shaking their way down the red carpet and chatting inside the ballroom was impressive: Miguel and his brand-new manager Troy Carter entered together; at one point a flood of talent that included Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Sony/ATV’s Marty Bandier, Jimmy Jam, Bart Weiss, Earth, Wind & Fire’s Verdine White and Ralph Johnson, Smokey Robinson, Joan Collins and sister Suzanne, Kris Kristofferson and Warner/Chappell’s Jon Platt are seen — when will that clutch ever again do anything together? Or how about Gloria Estefan chatting with Dave Koz while producer and Verve chief David Foster, Motown founder Berry Gordy and artist Jessie J are nearby?
Other music luminaries in attendance included: Lifetime achievement honoree Ronald Isley, Pharrell being greeted by Russell Simmons and Pepsi’s Frank Cooper (No. 15 on the Power 100); Neil Diamond speaking with producer and artist Peter Asher (Neil does have a new album coming out); and Sony/ATV chairman Marty Bandier talking with Berry Gordy.