The Grammys are mapped out, staffed, and rehearsed months ahead of time. But the show brain trust, led by executive producer Ken Ehrlich, must be good at ad-libbing when real life blows up the script. Here are eight last-minute surprises, dramas, mishaps, and even tragedies of Grammys past that had to be dealt with on the fly.
1. Feb. 12, 2012: Whitney Houston, a Grammy favorite in the '80s and '90s, died the day before the telecast. The producers scrambled to revamped the show. Host LL Cool J opened the show by offering a prayer. Jennifer Hudson sang Houston's signature song, "I Will Always Love You."
2. Feb. 8, 2009: Chris Brown and then-girlfriend Rihanna were both set to appear on the Grammys. At around 12:30 a.m. on the day of the telecast, Brown assaulted Rihanna. Obviously, neither could appear on the show. To fill the gap, Grammy producers added a performance of Al Green's classic "Let's Stay Together."
3. Feb. 8, 2004: Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson were set to appear separately on the Grammys: Timberlake to perform; Jackson to host a segment that paid tribute to Luther Vandross, who had suffered a stroke the previous spring. One week before the telecast, the two stars performed together at the Super Bowl, where she suffered the "wardrobe malfunction" seen 'round the world. Timberlake kept his date with Grammy, but Jackson backed out (in part because of the sensitivity of the Vandross segment). Another fallout: For the first time, CBS put the Grammys on a five-minute delay.
4. Feb. 25, 1998: An attention-seeking extra with the words "Soy Bomb" painted on his chest started gyrating during Bob Dylan's performance of "Love Sick." Dylan, to his credit, kept on going with barely a sideways glimpse at the intruder. Unfortunately, far more people remember "Soy Bomb" than remember Dylan's subsequent Album of the Year victory for "Time Out Of Mind."
5. Feb. 25, 1998: Grammy Legend recipient Luciano Pavarotti was set to perform "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's opera "Turandot." But throat problems caused him to cancel just a few hours before show time. The producers approached Aretha Franklin, who had performed the song two nights before at the MusiCares fund-raising concert (but without a full orchestra and in a different key and with a different arrangement). Franklin agreed to do the song and proceeded to proved for all time that the Queen of Soul can sing anything.
6. March 1, 1995: Crosby, Stills & Nash and Luther Vandross closed the show with a joint performance of Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With." Unfortunately, the show was running long and CBS cut away after Vandross only sang about four lines. Vandross was deeply offended. "It took nearly a year for me to get back in his good graces," Ehrlich remembers. "I still feel awful about what happened. It's the only time in over 20 years that a performance didn't make it on the Grammys."
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7. March 1, 1994: Frank Sinatra, 78, was in the midst of his acceptance speech for a Grammy Legend Award when producers cut away to commercial. At the end of the commercial break, host Garry Shandling apologized: "I think you'd join me going on record that Mr. Sinatra should have finished his speech." The Recording Academy later explained that Sinatra's camp had made the decision, fearing that the legendary star, who was lucid some nights and others not, might embarrass himself on live TV. The explanation didn't change the fact that there had been an appearance of disrespect to one of the greatest of all music legends.
8. Feb. 19, 1977: Stevie Wonder performed "Sir Duke" live via satellite from Lagos, Nigeria. Unfortunately, the transmission was terrible. After the performance, host Andy Williams attempted to speak to Wonder. The connection was still extremely poor. Not thinking, Williams asked, "Stevie, if you can't hear me, can you see me?" (Williams later apologized on air, lest anyone mistakenly think he was being disrespectful to the blind music legend.)
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