The incomparably talented, and troubled, diva was in the midst of yet another career revival at the time of her death. Her starring role in the remake of “Sparkle” was getting good notices, and by some accounts, she was working on her sobriety and eager to make new music and reassert her star power.
It all came crashing down, however, in what investigators would later deem an accidental drowning with cocaine use and heart disease as contributing factors. Houston’s death came just hours before stars began gathering for the traditional Clive Davis pre-Grammy party, at which the “I’m Every Woman” singer was expected to appear.
The party, booked for the same hotel Houston was staying in, went on, but Davis turned it into a kind of celebration/wake for the fallen star he’d never given up on. “Obviously, [it was a] devastating shock. The news was unthinkable and is still shattering to believe that this fresh talent that I discovered when she was 19 and worked with her on every album [had died],” Davis told MTV News earlier this week.
“People don’t talk about how music was in her soul; she loved it and was so aware of music and records. So the memory of that, of course, is with me. But Whitney loved this party; she wasn’t going to perform. She came every year because she just loved that night.”
Like last year’s soiree — which featured emotional tributes to Houston from Ne-Yo and Pitbull, Alicia Keys and Wiz Khalifa — this year’s party will again be a toast to Whitney.
But the bigger issue last year was how the Grammys would handle the death of the six-time winner and 26-time nominee. On a night when the show had a host for the first time in seven years, rapper LL Cool J struck the perfect tone off the bat, opening the broadcast with a prayer for Whitney that had stars such as Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga bowing their heads.
“We were up all night, and we just wanted to figure out [and] show Whitney Houston the love, the appreciation, the love, the respect she deserves based on her as a human being and the career that she had and give her that love and make sure that people know we care,” LL Cool J said before taking the stage in 2012.
Looking back on the scramble to turn the biggest night in music into a celebration of a fallen idol as well as today’s stars, Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow told MTV News this week he wonders how they could have pulled it off without Cool J. “I was wondering if it was divine intervention,” he said of the decision to bring the rap star on as host in 2012. “It would have been hard to handle without someone as extremely gifted as he is to take us through that.”
Later that night, avowed acolyte Jennifer Hudson brought down the house with a last-minute addition to the performance roster that channeled the spirit and grace of the fallen diva.
Poised and determined to make the moment about Whitney and not herself, Hudson sang a show-stopping cover of Houston’s most famous song, the remake of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” from “The Bodyguard.” It was a fitting honor for an artist who had meant so much to the Grammys, and the music industry, for more than three decades.
“I was here for that night, and I could feel everyone wanting to celebrate her life, but still being a little torn,” multiple 2013 Grammy nominee Miguel said about last year’s Davis party. “In our generation, she’s probably the most-loved and celebrated female voice [and] she was one of those people who loved music.”