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When Whitney Houston died at age 48 the day before the Grammys this year, the music industry had to scramble to put together a tribute befitting her stature and influence. Since that time, and the subsequent star-studded sendoff she got from home church Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, where Pastor Marvin Winans officiated and practically the entire Winans family paid homage to their ìsisterî and several celebrities honored her, for the most part, whenever Houstonís name comes up, invariably itís in connection with the tragedy of her death ó or the latest drama surrounding daughter Bobbi Kristina.
Not so at last weekendís taping of the Houston television special ìWe Will Always Love You: A Grammy Salute to Whitney Houstonî at the Nokia Theatre. In true Hollywood fashion, Grammy executive producer Ken Erlich announced that there would be a bounty of Houstonís Grammy performances, words of admiration by celebrity fans and gems of vintage home video.
And what a collection Erlich brought ó one in particular featuring a short-cropped Afro-wearing Houston hanging with ìMommyî and Daddyî at the kitchen table.
The footage of Houstonís Grammy appearances, her first television appearance on The Merv Griffin Show (and a ësurpriseí appearance!) and her talking heads ëwords of wisdomí to an interviewer sparked audience laughter, leaving it in stunned amazement at how radiant, beautiful ó and model-thin! ó she was back in the day.
In fact, about the only thing that even hinted at the tragedy of her death at the celebration was a nearly tearful Halle Berry talking about the woman she said ìpersonified the word ëicon.í î
Record mogul Clive Davis, whoís credited with discovering 19-year-old singing back up for her mother at Sweet, could barely contain his love for, and unabiding sense of loss of, his prized mentee. Recording Academy president Neil Portnow echoed those sentiments.
But folks came out for a celebrationóand, thankfully, it was left to Jennifer Hudson to kick that off with Houstonís megahits ëHow Will I Know,î ìIím Every Womanî and ìI Wanna Dance With Somebody.î Disco fans know well that though ballads were Houstonís forte, you could dance the night away on her uptempo hits.
Introduced by ìPerson of Interestísî Taraji P. Henson, Usher brought the womenfolk to their feet with ìI Believe in You and Me.î And though he didnít sing ó or rap, manly man LL Cool J spoke of his favorite Houston moment.
As the saying goes, ëWe had church up in dereí when Houstonís gospel ìsister,î Cece Winans dueted with Yolanda Adams (doing Houstonís part) for a stirring rendition of ìCount on Me.î
A 1987 clip of a very young Celine Dion belting out ìThe Greatest Love of Allî resonated with the Houston-Dion fans in the house. Even Britney Spears spoke of how much she was influenced by Houston.
The taping ended by Erlich thanking the family for allowing them to present the show, though only Bobbi Kristina Brown, Nick Gordon and Pat Houston were there ó not mother Cissy Houston. Added Ehrlich, ìIn her time, her music did indeed give us the greatest love of all.î Indeed.
ìWe Will Always Love You: A GRAMMY Salute to Whitney Houstonî airs Tues., Nov. 13, on CBS.