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In keeping with tradition, this year’s Pre-Grammy Gala proved to be another star-studded affair.
Holding court inside an overflowing Beverly Hilton ballroom, Clive Davis name-checked Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton, John Legend, Sly Stallone, Jane Fonda and more between performances by an eclectic lineup that included Carly Simon, Barry Manilow, Fetty Wap, Tori Kelly and Adam Lambert with Jack Antonoff.
Now in its 40th year, the pre-gala also paid tribute to Azoff MSG Entertainment chairman/CEO Irving Azoff. After receiving the President’ Merit Award from Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow, Azoff — who became emotional recalling his friendship with the late Glenn Frey — said his long-running career has “been a great ride.”
Kicking off the three-hour gala, late-night host James Corden riffed on everything from Lenny Kravitz’s pants split to politician Nancy Pelosi “dropping an album on Feb. 28 in collaboration with Davis; a grime set produced by Diplo.” In a prelude to the tribute performances airing on the Grammy Awards later this evening, the gala’s concert portion began with Dave Grohl, Beck and members of Nirvana saluting David Bowie with a performance of “The Man Who Sold the World.”
Also drawing strong reaction: Melissa Etheridge’s reading of the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” in honor of Frey and Lambert and Antonoff closing the evening with a sizzling rendition of another Bowie song, “Let’s Dance.”
Making a surprise appearance after an earlier health scare, Manilow sang “Mandy” to mark the hit song’s 40th anniversary. Carly Simon, in a rare performance, had Jamie Foxx, Janelle Monae and the rest of the ballroom dancing and singing along to her hit “You’re So Vain.” And in a nod to music’s next generation, current Grammy nominees Fetty Wap, Andra Day, Tori Kelly and Elle King also performed.
On hand to set the stage for Azoff’s award presentation were legendary bands — the management vet’s longtime friends — Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire. The latter’s performance of a medley of hits including “Shining Star” and “That’s the Way of the World” also doubled as a memorial to late co-founder Maurice White.
Thanking family, friends and industry colleagues, Azoff alternated between being serious and funny. “I agreed to accept this award because it was the first time that I know it was presented to a manager,” he said. “I like being a manager. And the Recording Academy is recognizing the role that managers play. Now more than ever a shrewd manager is essential. Someone has to advise you on dry cleaners, restaurants, chartered jets and divorce attorneys.”
Recalling the “44-year wild ride” he had with Frey and the Eagles, Azoff became choked up, saying, “It was beyond anything that we could ever have imagined.” Ending his remarks on a serious note before introducing Earth, Wind & Fire, Azoff called for the need to stop chasing different agendas and protect creative people’s rights to enthusiastic applause.
“It begins and ends period with artists,” he continued. “Traditionally, we’ve been a fractured business with different companies and rights holders prioritizing only their own interests. There’s opportunity and obligation now for the music industry to come together and protect people’s rights. We need to put aside differences and focus on industry solutions where everyone is taken care of.”
This story first appeared on billboard.com
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek