As artists gathered in Los Angeles for the 54th annual Grammy Awards, all thoughts were centered on the sudden passing of R&B icon Whitney Houston. The tone of Pre-Grammy events around the city changed from one of celebration to mourning and remembrance. That was also true at the annual Cash Money records party, where celebrities such as Jay Sean, Taraji P. Henson, Dawn Richard and more reminisced about Houston’s life and legacy on the red carpet and tried to make sense of the passing.
Recording artist Jay Sean reflected on what a profound influence Houston’s music had been in his musical development. “There were three artists who I grew up listening to: Michael Jackson, ‘Off the Wall’; I had Whitney Houston’s first album; and Lionel Richie, ‘Back to Front,'” he told Billboard. “Those were the three albums that I listened to so much. Whitney’s voice — to this day, it gives me shivers. ‘All at Once’ is one of my all-time favorite songs.”
Although Houston’s passing brought a sobering tone to the evening’s festivities, artists who grew up on Houston’s catalogue looked back with fondness on her enormous impact on the industry. Academy Award-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson remarked upon Houston’s ability to seamlessly inhabit the realms of both film and music. “She was a trendsetter,” Henson said. “She was the first singer who did the acting thing and took it to the next level.”
But it was Whitney’s voice that always captivated listeners, and her vocal technique was the top element of her dynamic public image that artists remembered. “She is the voice,” Dawn Richard said. “That’s what we know her as. When we think about the biggest voice in music, we think about Whitney. She is the influence.”
“She could bring it,” Jay Sean added. “And not many people can do that anymore. I feel like the industry needed people like her. It killed me to know that she is no longer with us.” Producer Jukebox, who helmed Willow Smith’s smash “Whip My Hair,” called Houston “a master of her craft” and described her passing as “a detrimental loss to the industry — to the world, period.”
Inside the event, Lil Wayne paid homage to Houston before taking shots at Jay-Z and Kanye West in a freestyle rap, which elicited a shocked reaction from the crowd, but outside on the gold carpet, the mood was reflective. Cash Money artist Big Boy noted that Houston’s death made him reflect on the mortality of so many other greats.
“You think about a legend like Whitney Houston. We think people are going to be here forever. Now, we’ve got to continue to embrace those are here with us, and not just pay homage and talk about how great somebody is after they pass on.”
Additional Reporting by Tye Comer.