Yolanda Adams, Fantasia, and Andra Day are set to honor the late, great Aretha Franklin on Sunday’s Grammy Awards telecast, but they will have a tough act to follow for anyone who attended Saturday’s official Pre-Grammy Gala hosted by the Recording Academy and legendary record executive Clive Davis. In front of an A-list audience at the Beverly Hilton Hotel that included everyone from Joni Mitchell and Barbara Streisand, to “Weird Al” Yankovic and Alice Cooper, to Nancy Pelosi and Producer of the Year nominee Linda Perry, the Queen of Soul received a tribute fit for a Grammy queen.
First, R&B diva Jazmine Sullivan was joined by Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas (whose “Smooth” was key in rebooting Carlos Santana’s career with 2000’s Clive Davis-helmed eight-time Grammy-winning Supernatural album), for a spirited remake of Franklin’s duet with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me.” While the pair may have seemed a mismatch on paper, onstage they shared easy chemistry and captured the joy of the 1986 original.
Next, jazz/soul powerhouse Ledisi absolutely slayed with a multi-octave, standing ovation-garnering Aretha medley that included “Think” and “Respect.” But the best was saved for last, when Beyoncé-protégé sister act and Best New Artist Grammy nominees Chloe x Halle, fresh off their magnificent “America the Beautiful” performance at last weekend’s Super Bowl LIII, delivered a fierce rendition of Franklin and Annie Lennox’s “Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves” empowerment anthem — with Brandi Carlile, Valerie Simpson (of Ashford & Simpson fame), and The Greatest Showman star Keala Settle jumping onstage for the surprise big finish.
Other standout performers of the Pre-Grammy Gala included a stellar solo number by Carlile, the 2019 Grammys’ most-nominated woman; Album of the Year and Best New Artist nominee H.E.R. playing bluesy guitar on a cover of Foy Vance’s “Make It Rain”; and Morris Day & The Time getting everyone up on their feet with the old-school party-starters “Jungle Love” and “The Bird.” This year’s Pre-Grammy Gala honoree was veteran music executive Clarence Avant (introduced by Quincy Jones), who since the 1950s has worked with Sarah Vaughn, Jimmy Smith, Lalo Schifrin, Bill Withers, Babyface, the Time’s Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and many others.
The 61st Annual Grammy Awards will take place Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and will air live on CBS at 5 p.m PT/8 p.m ET. A larger all-star Franklin tribute concert organized by Davis, which took place at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium on Jan. 13, will air on CBS at a later date.
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