leven years ago, Whitney Houston died in a suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where downstairs, the annual pre-Grammy gala hosted by her mentor, Clive Davis, was set to take place in just a few hours. The gala that tragic evening became a wake of sorts, with Davis leading a moment of silence; the following night, at the Grammy Awards, Jennifer Hudson memorably paid musical tribute to the late diva. This year, as Davis’s gala returned to the Beverly Hilton on Feb. 4 after a three-year pandemic hiatus, Houston’s presence was intensely felt — not just as Hudson delivered another stunning performance, but as Houston’s The Bodyguard co-star, Kevin Costner, delivered the evening’s emotional opening remarks and seemingly tried to absolve Davis of the guilt still lingering all these years later.
Costner — who also co-produced The Bodyguard, Houston’s acting debut, 30 years ago — began by joking about not feeling qualified to introduce Davis, before reflecting on the unlikely, enduring friendship they formed while working on the film. “How do any three people find each other in this world? I don’t know. In this business, the truth is it really doesn’t matter who we are or where we begin; it’s only about the intersection, how we come together, and what we make of that fateful union,” Costner mused.
“Whitney had become the most celebrated singer of her generation, but she was also an untrained actress. And it was unclear if this was something she should aspire to, or even something that was good for her career,” Costner recalled. “All three of us would take a huge leap. And maybe the biggest, maybe the hardest, was for Clive. I needed to believe that I could make the movie that I was imagining. Whitney saw it as a chance to reinvent herself. But for Clive, it was a career move that had a recipe for disaster written all over it. I needed Clive. I needed his trust and his blessing, and I needed the one thing that he wasn’t used to giving up: control. We were set up to be mortal enemies, if you think about it. This could only go one way — and if it didn’t go right, I don’t think I would’ve been invited tonight! But in this instance, Clive was right. If Whitney didn’t work, the movie doesn’t either. And that clarity, that single-mindedness, is what I love about Clive.”
Costner went on to marvel about the “voice that came out of that little body that night in the studio” when Houston recorded her signature song from The Bodyguard, a cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” — the biggest-selling single of all time by a female artist, and what Costner called the “performance of a lifetime.” But then Costner became noticeably choked up as he addressed his friend Davis directly: “Now, I want to say something that I’ve never said to you before. Maybe this isn’t the room for it, but I don’t want to miss the moment. And it’s from the heart. Neither one of us in the end could protect your beloved Whitney. But your fingerprints on her life are clean, my friend. You were a miracle in her life. Thank you for being her bodyguard, Clive, and for every person in this room that you stood behind and stood for. Everyone in this business has mom, but not everyone gets a Clive. So, you need to come up here. This is your stage.”
When Davis approached the podium, the usually garrulous record executive seemed stunned. “After hearing those words from Kevin, I’m fully overcome, really,” he said softly. “That was just a wow for me, Kevin. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this introduction, and for the ever-deepening of our friendship.”
Saturday’s most stunning moment, however, was when Hudson appeared on Davis’s stage at the Beverly Hilton to belt another one of Houston’s famous ballads, “The Greatest Love of All” — a nearly seven-minute tour de force that received a rapturous standing ovation from an A-list crowd that included Adrien Brody, Brandi Carlile, Chance the Rapper, Alice Cooper, Paris Hilton, Lil Nas X, Demi Lovato, Joni Mitchell, Nile Rodgers, Smokey Robinson, Olivia Rodrigo, Sharon Stone, Lars Ulrich, Diane Warren, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Cardi B and Offset, Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox, Nancy and Paul Pelosi, and Pat Houston (Whitney’s sister-in-law, the president of Whitney Houston Enterprises, co-executor of Whitney’s estate, and co-producer of the biopic I Wanna Dance with Somebody).
“It was from the heart,” a humbled Hudson told Yahoo Entertainment after the epic performance.
Houston, who would have turned 60 this year, was celebrated throughout 2023’s Grammy week, with publishing company Primary Wave Music and the singer’s estate launching the “Whitney Houston Hotel.” The residency, held at the W in Hollywood, featured an immersive listening lounge, an exhibit of rare memorabilia, and two days of live music by other Houston admirers like Destiny’s Child star Michelle Williams and Glee actress Amber Riley, and a panel discussion of Houston’s legacy.
While onstage at Davis’s pre-Grammy gala Saturday, one of the event’s many other performers, Elvis Costello, recalled the shocking night of Houston’s death, when his wife, jazz singer Diana Krall, performed “If I Had You” in Houston’s honor at the 2012 gala. The mood was obviously considerably lighter this year, as Costello jammed on “Pump It Up” with Latin superstar Juanes and played his famous version of his “hero” Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Other upbeat highlights of Saturday’s event included vivacious performances by Lil Baby, Lil Wayne, Lizzo, and Latto; Italian Best New Artist nominees Måneskin performing their rockin’ cover of the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ “Beggin’”; and, in an unexpected cross-generational moment, the actual Valli crooning “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” Sheryl Crow also paid tribute to another lost legend, the recently departed Christine McVie, by performing Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” and “Say You Love Me” solo on piano.
At the end of the evening, Atlantic Records executives Julie Greenwald and Craig Kallman received the 2023 Grammy Salute to Industry Icons honor, presented by Grammy-winning rapper Cardi B, who thanked the pair for supporting during the difficult process of creating her debut album while she was pregnant and assuring her that she could “have it all.”
The 65th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony will take place at Los Angeles’s Crypto.com Arena Sunday and will air on CBS and Paramount+ at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET.