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Grammy Awards honor Whitney Houston, celebrate 'fallen sister' with prayer and planned tribute
The Grammy Awards was transformed into a Whitney Houston memorial, where attendees celebrated the pop star and the show hurriedly assembled a last-minute tribute.
Sunday night's ceremony, just a day after Houston was found dead in her Beverly Hills hotel room, began with the tone of a wake, where the music industry family honored one of its biggest stars and a six-time Grammy winner.
"We've had a death in our family," said host LL Cool J shortly after Bruce Springsteen opened the show by singing, with obvious poignancy, his new single, "We Take of Our Own."
Cool J led the crowd in a prayer for music's "fallen sister," as the Staples Center crowd bowed their heads. He declared the night one to "celebrate and remember," and played a clip of Houston performing "I Will Always Love You" from the 1994 Grammys.
Later in the show, Jennifer Hudson, the actress and "American Idol" finalist, was to perform a tribute to the 48-year-old Houston. That her death came so soon before the CBS broadcast meant "a full-blown tribute" wasn't possible, said Grammy show producer Ken Ehrlich.
With just hours to prepare a fitting tribute, the Grammys had to act quickly.
"Musicians, by nature, improvise," said Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, on the red carpet before the show. Portnow said the tribute was the result of hours of frantic phone calls in the aftermath of Houston's death.
The vibe of the awards was altered from merely a flashy awards party. Houston had been expected to perform at the pre-awards gala Saturday night thrown by music impresario Clive Davis.
"Whenever there's tragedy, family pulls together ' and this is my family," said producer Jimmy Jam. "There's going to a little bit of everything tonight, and that's how the emotions should be."
"I'm glad we're all together to grieve together," said Bonnie Raitt.
For those who were particularly close to Houston, the evening was a difficult one. Just days before, on Thursday, R&B singer Kelly Price performed a duet of "Yes, Jesus Loves Me" with Houston at a pre-Grammy celebration ' Houston's last performance.
"I'm here," said an emotional Price, a friend and a frequent collaborator with Houston. "She gave the genre of R&B music a gift that can never be denied."
Heartfelt reaction came across genres.
"Few people will ever touch the world as much as Whitney Houston," said country star Billy Ray Cyrus.
Musicians who grew up in the 1980s recognized the loss a soundtrack to their youth. R&B singer Ledisi burst into a warm, impromptu rendition of Houston's "How Will I Know" on the red carpet.
"It's a very somber tone tonight at the Grammys because we lost our hero," R&B singer Kelly Rowland told E! "My heart is heavy."
The Grammys were far from alone in honoring Houston. Reaction continued to pour in on social media. BET, MTV and VH1 ran tributes to the singer Sunday. Oprah Winfrey said she would remember Houston in a two-hour tribute Thursday on the Oprah Winfrey Network.