Clive Davis' pre-Grammy gala returns with Lizzo, Sheryl Crow and memories of Whitney Houston
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Ask Clive Davis how he feels about his storied pre-Grammy gala returning live after a two-year COVID-related adjustment and the music impresario is quietly reflective.
“It’s an emotional time more than ever,” Davis said Friday, sitting in his suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the location of the Grammys-eve event since shortly after its 1976 inception until the mid-2000s. “This is quite a tastemaker and influential event and this year is no exception.”
The 2023 edition of Davis’ star-spangled collection of celebrities from music (Earth, Wind & Fire, Olivia Rodrigo), film (Tom Hanks, Sharon Stone) and politics (Nancy and Paul Pelosi) was unveiled at the Beverly Hilton Saturday.
Davis had swapped his casual green pullover and cream pants of Friday for a natty suit and “Wicked”-green tie at Saturday’s bash, a three-plus hour celebration of music from all genres and demographics.
Davis’ longtime friend Kevin Costner – the pair bonded in the ‘90s over Whitney Houston and “The Bodyguard” – introduced the record industry legend with stories about Davis’ perseverance (“No one was really betting on Clive, except Clive”) and an emotional reminder of Houston’s death hours before the gala in 2012.
“Neither one of us in this room could save our beloved Whitney,” Costner said before addressing Davis. “But your fingerprints on her life are clean, my friend.”
During Friday’s sitdown with USA TODAY, Davis concurred that the spirit of Houston continues to pervade the event.
“The Whitney memories are always there,” Davis said, his voice soft and deliberate. “She played the party at least six times and I had no idea that she planned to surprise me the year of her death – and I was with her eight hours before (she died).”
Inside the Beverly Hilton ballroom on Saturday, Davis summoned one of his most beloved discoveries, Jennifer Hudson, to pay tribute to Houston.
Clad in a body-hugging silver strapless gown, Hudson uncorked her massive voice for a spectacular rendition of “Greatest Love of All.” Her fingers splayed and shaking from emotion, Hudson’s vocals boomed as she escalated to glass-shattering notes.
The show hopscotched from rock (Elvis Costello and The Imposters with guest Juanes tackling “Pump It Up,” Lauren Daigle steamrolling through Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man”) to pop (Hudson) to hip-hop (Latto twerking through her “Big Energy,” Lil Baby and Lil Wayne sauntering through “California Breeze” and “John,” respectively).
Meanwhile, Cardi B introduced this year’s Salute to Industry Icons Award winners – Julie Greenwald and Craig Kallman of Atlantic Records – in her typical New York-ese (“I’m not making this speech because I want them to give me a bigger budget for my new record,” she said with a giggle).
But it was evident throughout the night that Davis, who turns 91 in April, still possesses a deep love of music and thrills at organizing an event that attracts a smorgasbord of celebrities.
“(This) became a party to celebrate music. There are no winners, no losers. There’s no competition,” he said on Friday. “Somehow, we are all are fiercely competitive, but bonded by our love of music and I’m grateful that they come to my stage, my party.”
Some other highlights:
It’s been a busy few days for the Italian rock band nominated for a best new artist Grammy. The quartet performed at Thursday’s Spotify event spotlighting the new artist hopefuls and were back to plastering another room with their crunch rock on Saturday. Davis praised the band’s “swagger” while introducing them in the coveted opening slot – often reserved for an act Davis personally finds enticing – to storm the stage. A saucy “I Wanna Be Your Slave” was paired with their read of The Four Seasons’ “Beggin’,” a blistering presentation of sheer lust.
As the members of Måneskin were whisked to their table, Davis called Four Seasons' mainstay Valli to the stage as a cute follow-up. The trim 88-year-old joked, “Who can say no to Clive?” as he and the house band dove into a buoyant version of Valli’s 1967 solo smash, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” Though it was early in the night, most in the crowd of several hundred popped to their feet to heartily sing along, much like sports fans when Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” blares from a stadium speaker.
Wearing a shimmery blue dress, thigh-high boots and a mega-smile, Lizzo bounded out with “Break Up Twice.” She shook her rear end at the crowd – to many cheerful whoops – and infused the song with Lizzo-fied attitude, smiling brightly while twisting the lyrical knife.
A night after performing her effervescent version of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back at the MusiCares Persons of the Year Award show, Crow donned an elegant white pantsuit to pay tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s late “Songbird,” Christine McVie. Crow clearly felt a deep connection to the music, telling the crowd that she felt lucky to “honor someone whose shoulders I have stood upon.” Sitting behind a piano, Crow first shared a lovely take on “Songbird” – which she is slated to perform at the Grammys during the In Memoriam segment – before pleasing the crowd with the springy “Say You Love Me.”
Get ready for the Grammys:
Grammys 2023: How to watch, who is performing and everything else you need to know
Best new artists shine: Maneskin, Anitta play Spotify event ahead of Grammys
Best new artist rundown: Every Grammy best new artist in history
Smokey, Berry honored: Motown greats Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy take MusiCares Persons of the Year honors
Beyonce leads the pack: Check out the 2023 Grammy nominees
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Clive Davis pre-Grammy gala returns with Lizzo, Sheryl Crow