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News of Whitney Houston‘s sudden death shocked Hollywood on Saturday, but none more than Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, who is now in the midst of revamping Sunday’s Grammy Awards to feature a tribute with singer Jennifer Hudson.
“The Grammys, because of the size of the production and all of the elements — with three stages and thousands of microphones and sets and costumes — it’s a difficult show, like the Titanic, to move in the 11th hour,” Portnow told reporters at Clive Davis‘ annual pre-Grammy gala. “That being said, I have the A-Team and I have a bunch of nimble people who are very smart, and we’re in the process of deciding creatively what might be appropriate and what we can do tomorrow. Certainly, she’ll be in our hearts.”
While Portnow offered only that “singers have been contacted,” Ken Erlich announced live on CNN that Hudson had been selected to perform during the tribute.
“Whitney was a friend. I worked for Clive from the beginning and we put her album out when she was 19,” Portnow said. “I helped find songs and producers and we introduced her here, in this room. It’s personally devastating and of course to her fans and to the industry, there’s only one Whitney Houston and we’ll miss her incredibly.”
“The first time we put Whitney on television she was 19 and she was a really skinny girl with a beautiful afro,” he continued talking about her debut performance on The Merv Griffin Show. “She was very nervous, but very sweet. You could tell she was gonna be a star.”
As for the last time he’d spoken with Houston, Portnow recalled: “Probably within the last six months or so. She sounded great, looked great, full of life.”
Preacher’s Wife director Penny Marshall was also on hand for the event, held at the Beverly Hilton, where she donned all black and sunglasses.
“They should sing some of her songs,” she suggested of Sunday’s telecast. “Those who can. And there are those who can.”
While choking back tears, Marshall explained that she had heard the heartbreaking news while showering just a few hours earlier.
“It’s devastating. It’s just devastating,” she said. “I knew her, I worked with her. She was a delight to work with. I loved her very much and I miss her.”
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