Whitney Houston’s death last year couldn't have been a more perfect storm.
Just 24 hours before the Grammy Awards were set to go live, news that the pop icon had passed stunned the world. And the Recording Academy and show producers were faced with an unfathomable challenge of delicately paying homage as the music industry gathered to recognize their peers and mourn the passing of one of their own.
Those 11th-hour alterations to the telecast are documented in a new documentary, “The Grammys Will Go On: A Death in the Family.”
Set to air, befittingly enough, Saturday on CBS on the eve of the Grammys, the one-hour special documents how the show's producers, host and performers scrambled to honor Houston, appropriately, in a moments notice.
There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes footage — good luck watching Jennifer Hudson rehearsing “I Will Always Love You” without getting choked up — and interviews with the major players that pulled it off.
But what the documentary will ultimately provide is a bookend to one of the most tragic music stories in recent years, a story that unraveled during Grammys weekend.
In town to appear, as she often had, at music mogul Clive Davis' annual pre-show gala, Houston had already drawn attention of reporters and security staff members with erratic behavior at rehearsals for the party and a supposed tiff at another Grammys-related event where she would make what would be her last public appearance.
Just hours before Davis’ party at the Beverly Hilton, she was found in the bathtub of her hotel room upstairs. The scene was surreal. VH1 was downstairs, ready to interview her for a “Behind the Music” special on Brandy, and the usual madness of pulling off a star-studded evening would soon be amplified as news of her death reverberated.
Hours after her death, Davis, the man who discovered Houston and fought tirelessly to protect the regal pop royalty image he crafted for his ingenue, was eulogizing the singer as her body remained in her suite a few floors above the ballroom.
In the months after her death the singer’s legacy has been marked by other award shows, but it's impossible to reflect on her death without mentioning the Grammys in the same breath.
The Recording Academy has already given the late pop titan a sendoff with a tribute show, "We Will Always Love You: A Grammy Salute to Whitney Houston," which aired on CBS in November, and the Grammys Museum is housing a Houston-focused exhibit.
Even though Houston’s final recording, “Celebrate,” didn’t score a posthumous nomination, the Grammys have made sure her presence is felt by airing the documentary so close to the ceremony — another reminder of the magnitude of her passing.
And while that voice remains unmatched, the progeny she’s inspired is endless. Combing through current nominees is evidence of that. Kelly Clarkson’s soaring vocals, Melanie Fiona’s knack for emotional balladry, Adele's stunning live delivery are all reminders of what Houston left behind.
Need further proof? Just glance at Beyoncé, whose nominated single “Love On Top” so greatly pulls from the R&B-pop confections that Houston flawlessly delivered in 1980s.
On Sunday when the telecast opens, the shadow of her death will have faded a bit. And whether it's acknowledged on-air or not, as the title says, the Grammys will go on.
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