By Alesandra Dubin Posted February 13, 2012, 12:16 PM EST
LOS ANGELES When one of the seminal figures of pop music for a generation dies 24 hours before the Grammy Awards, it casts a significant pall over the mood of the weekend's events—but the show does go on. Whitney Houston's death on Saturday at the Beverly Hilton prior to Clive Davis and the Recording Academy's annual “Pre-Grammy Gala,” which she was scheduled to attend, sent producers of Sunday's 54th annual awards at the Staples Center scrambling to reshuffle the show in a way that executive producer Ken Ehrlich described as a “respectful musical tribute.” References to Houston appeared multiple times throughout a tweaked script, and Jennifer Hudson performed a dramatic but spare homage.
“It’s too fresh in everyone's memory to do more at this time,“ Ehrlich said in a statement, “but we would be remiss if we didn't recognize Whitney's remarkable contribution to music fans in general, and in particular her close ties with the Grammy telecast and her Grammy wins and nominations over the years.”
The awards aired on CBS with LL Cool J as the show's first host in seven years. Among the other new twists on the Grammy stage: Nominees Chris Brown, Deadmau5, Foo Fighters, David Guetta, and Lil Wayne joined on the adjacent Nokia Plaza for a performance highlighting electronica for the first time ever at the show. And Staples lit up on cue during Coldplay's performance with signals sent wirelessly to bracelets distributed among the thousands of guests, dancing in their seats. “Every year, we take a fresh look at all our events, projects, and initiatives,” Branden Champan, executive in charge of production and chief business development officer, said of the decision to bring the host aboard. “We want to remain as current and relevant with our talent that participate in each and every project as the year in music itself.”
After the main event wrapped on the Staples stage, the Recording Academy welcomed about 5,000 guests for the biggest party of them all: the official after-party known as the “Grammy Celebration,” which this year sparkled with a Rio carnival theme over seven-million cubic feet in the Los Angeles Convention Center. The academy's Chapman, Rex Supa, and Clay Upton were the event's executive producers, and Along Came Mary Productions, helmed by longtime collaborator Mary Micucci, once again produced it. Angel City Designs handled the design and decor. Chapman described the party as the Recording Academy's largest annual event outside of the telecasts, and said, “It has a budget to match.”
Before the big night, the Recording Academy hosted its annual “Grammy Week” program of events, which this year included a major newcomer on the slate: In partnership with CoverGirl, Olay, and Venus, the academy presented “Grammy Glam” at MyHouse, an event meant to celebrate the connection between music and glamour. Also on the calendar was the Grammy Foundation's 14th annual Music Preservation Project event on Thursday, this year known as “One Night Only: A Celebration of the Live Music Experience,” at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. Sharon Osbourne and Steve Vai cohosted, and Bret Michaels performed as the closing act.
Paul McCartney was honored in this year's “Person of the Year” tribute, now in its 22nd year. The gala at the convention center on Friday began with a cocktail reception and silent auction, and continued with a dinner sponsored by AEG Live and a tribute concert sponsored by Acura/ELS. Performances included the likes of Tony Bennett, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, and McCartney himself.
And for the fourth consecutive year, Clive Davis and the Recording Academy presented the annual “Pre-Grammy Gala” at the Hilton, which was overshadowed by the news of Houston's death on the property—her body remained on site during the program—but the event did go on, after a scramble by producer Chapman. There was an array of absences in the performance lineup after some entertainers said they could not or would not go on under the circumstances, and a moment of silence called for by a somber Davis.
Sponsored by Harman, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Hyundai, and MasterCard Worldwide, the event included its annual Salute to Industry Icons, honoring Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson. Speaking from the events arrivals carpet, the Hilton's director of PR Lynda Simonetti said, “We still have an event to execute. Certainly in light of the circumstances, it changes the mood of an event, with [added] sympathy, with condolences. But from an event-planning standpoint—I'm standing here on a red carpet with a million photographers like I would for any event” at the high-profile venue.
As for the other major events around town, Cash Money was back with its third annual party the night before the Grammys at the Studios at Paramount. Colin Cowie handled the over-the-top, Parisian-inspired design and production. Angel City Designs took care of the video design and production, and design and decor execution.
Essence took to the Belasco Theater on Wednesday for its annual “Black Women in Music” party (part of an event series that also includes “Black Women in Hollywood” for the Oscars later this month), with honorees Kelly Rowland and Sylvia Rhone. Rowland performed, and MC Lyte served as DJ. Sponsorship came from Lincoln and My Black Is Beautiful. The mag's New York-based event marketing director, Candace Purdie Montgomery, oversaw the event, with production from Caravents.
Belvedere Red's party at the Avalon Hollywood on Thursday brought a live performance from Mary J. Blige and production and design by Tony Schubert and Event Eleven. Blige’s performance was streamed live via Belvedere’s Facebook page. Also that evening, Niche Media's Los Angeles Confidential magazine and Porteon Electric Vehicles celebrated Tony Bennett's Grammy nominations with a party at Crustacean Beverly Hills, and Delta Air Lines (official airline of the Grammys) hosted a party at the Getty House, where Raphael Saadiq performed. Other notables including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were in the house. MKG produced.
On Friday, Pepsi took to the Carondelet House downtown for “We (Heart) Pop,” an event that celebrated the talent from the Grammy “Best New Artists” category. Taryn Manning & Manufactured Superstars kept the energy up while guests checked out various interactive activities, like checking out the “Best New Artist” video series on Pandora using Sony tablets and making a flip book at a photo station. Also on Friday, an array of music industry executive hosts celebrated the Grammys with their 15th annual “Friends 'N' Family” event at Paramount, with charity beneficiary Rock the Vote. Live entertainment included DJ sets by the likes of Robyn and Freeschool and a live performance by Kreayshawn. Jennifer Gross of Evolutionary Media Group was among the hosts, and her team handled the event's PR.
Those not in town for the big week had options, too, thanks to new Web and social media pushes. The Recording Academy hosted a live streaming webcast of its various events and behind-the-scenes footage of the awards, and the experience was available on Grammy.com, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. “Each year, we delve more deeply into the use of social media as a platform to connect the world of music fans to all the Grammy Week activities,” Chapman said. “Our goal is to reach every music fan in whatever medium they wish to engage with us.”