• The Hollywood Reporter on LinkedIn
  • Follow THR on Pinterest

Grammy Awards Pre-Party: R. Kelly’s ‘Star Spangled Banner’ Highlight of Clive Davis Event

R. Kelly
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Matthew Morrison took up the mandolin for ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ at the traditional night-before Grammy party.

In introducing Clive Davis, producer David Foster remarked how the legendary music executive’s pre-Grammy gala, held Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, was a more coveted ticket than the Grammy Awards themselves.

“Sorry Neil,” Foster cracked, looking in the direction of Recording Academy President Neil Portnow, who simply shrugged. After all, Foster was right.

More than 900 people are invited to the annual sit-down dinner, which has been held since 1976, but just as many clamor for a seat every year. Two nights earlier at an event held at the home of Geffen President Ron Fair, manager Larry Rudolph (Britney Spears) remarked that he had to campaign for a ticket. Looking around the room and seeing the likes of company chiefs Jeffrey Katzenberg, Les Moonves (CBS), Lucian Grainge (Universal Music Group), Jimmy Iovine (Interscope Geffen A&M), Doug Morris (UMG), LA Reid (Island Def Jam), Roger Faxon (EMI) Rob Stringer (Columbia-Epic) and Barry Weiss (RCA-Jive), it’s easy to understand why.

Of course, the Clive Davis party is all about star power and there were plenty of those in attendance as well including Whitney Houston, Cher, Barry Manilow, Warren Beatty, Prince, Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson, John Mayer and Usher. Representing the rock contingent: all five members of the Foo Fighters, who were planning to play another of their string of secret shows late on Saturday night, until singer Dave Grohl thought better of it, and the Grammy-nominated band Mumford & Sons, who’ll be joined by Bob Dylan at the Awards on Sunday and were the first to take the stage at Clive’s.

The stellar performance of “Little Lion Man” had people buzzing early on, but it was just the beginning of what’s typically a five-plus hour affair (this year’s fete let out just after midnight). Among the highlights: Jennifer Hudson’s take on Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” Glee’s Matthew Morrison’s impressive turn at the mandolin for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and a rousing rendition of Cee-Lo’s “F--- You” (the uncensored version), which turned out to be a surprise since Cee-Lo had earlier canceled his appearance due to illness. Indeed, the Grammy nominee looked somewhat peaked during his performance, but gave it all he could and had the crowd on its feet in no time.

Some, like Brandy, Monica, Hudson and Keri Hilson, all assigned tables in the front, barely sat the entire night. Whitney Houston took the stage to pay tribute to her cousin Dionne Warwick with the songs “Walk On By,” “Say a Little Prayer,” and “That’s What Friends Are For" (a duet with Warwick herself who celebrates 50 years in the business).

But perhaps the biggest showstopper of the night was R. Kelly’s performance, which found him entering the Hilton ballroom from the back trailed by more than twenty posse members and a reality show crew. Kicking off his nearly 20-minute medley with "The Star Spangled Banner," by the time Kelly got into his 2003 hit “Ignition,” he had the crowd eating out of his hands (while he grabbed a bottle of champagne off a front table and swiftly swigged from it), proving he still holds plenty of might among music biz heavies.

Speaking of which, this year’s gala honored David Geffen, another iconic music man who defined music history by signing such talents as Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Jackson Brown, but with such an R&B-heavy lineup, the honor felt like more of an afterthought. A brief video outlined Geffen’s awe-inspiring career, Mary J. Blige’s soulful turn on Mitchell’s “Free Man In Paris” received a rousing standing ovation, and Cher made the introduction, describing Geffen as “a great friend,” “generous and kind,” and “always the smartest man in the room,” and ending her preamble with, “I have no idea what this fucking award is, but whatever it is, I'm sure he deserves it.”

It wasn’t the only moment of bewilderment. After Davis made a comment that the key recipe for success is treating your executives like their top artists, snickers broke out among the mere mortals in the crowd. “That's what's destroying the music business,” one industry insider remarked then headed to the bar in due haste for another stiff free drink.