Emotions ran higher than usual Saturday night at
The veteran record executive's annual party at the Beverly Hilton is known as a marathon of music-business backslapping, with lengthy toasts by Davis and the Recording Academy's Neil Portnow and performances that can seem arranged to remind everyone how smart Person X was to sign Artist Y to Label Z.
By the end of the night, you can forget that music is about more than leveraging valuable copyrights, to use one of Davis' favorite words.
Yet this year, a wave of real feeling went through the room when Davis saluted his friend
Later, the R&B singer
And then there was Mary J. Blige, who greeted the crowd by revealing that she's "going through some horrible stuff right now."
"It's called a divorce," she added before tearing through her songs "Thick of It" and "No More Drama." The latter ended with Blige lying on the stage, her voice raw with pain.
Warmer but no less vivid were two young artists using the language of religion to sing about the experience of growing up: Chance the Rapper, who got the audience clapping along to "Blessings," and the country singer Maren Morris, who belted "My Church" with confidence beyond her years.
For some, the passion on display Saturday had an expected political edge.
Introducing her performance of Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” Judy Collins described the day after
House Minority Leader
And in her speech accepting the Recording Academy's Industry Icon Award, BET Networks chief Debra Lee described the need to fight discriminatory "bans and walls."
The line triggered a big response from a crowd that later seemed to hold its applause when Davis thanked
But Davis isn't the type to let a moment like that hang in the air, which is why the show ended with Neil Diamond leading a full house through several choruses of "Sweet Caroline."
There's a copyright with some value left in it.