R. Kelly, Whitney Houston, Jennifer Hudson, 'Glee's Matthew Morrison perform: On the scene at Clive Davis's annual Grammy party

Pre-GRAMMY-GalaThere is only one place on Grammy eve in Los Angeles where Neil Young chats up Quincy Jones, Lou Reed brushes shoulders with Usher, and Miley Cyrus hoots and shimmies for R. Kelly.

Industry icon Clive Davis’s annual pre-event party last night in Beverly Hills is the week’s most reliably A-list party, a stacked tower of celebrity Jenga that rightly terrified Mumford and Son’s Marcus Mumford: “This is pretty sh– scary,” the English folkie muttered from the stage, before opening the night’s performances with an impassioned, eyes-squeezed-shut take on the band’s “Sigh No More” and “Little Lion Man.”

Janelle Monae followed, pocket-sized and sharp in her rockabilly suit, her signature pompadour coming undone and bouncing wildly as she roared through an acellerated “Cold War” and “Tightrope,” while the events cameras projected the beaming faces of Warren Beatty and legendary record producer Lou Adler.

Mary J. Blige stepped up next to offer a funky, if slightly disconcerting take on Joni Mitchell’s wry, languid “Free Man in Paris,” the song Mitchell penned in 1974 for the night’s honoree, David Geffen, before yielding to a video tribute to Geffen featuring the likes of Tom Hanks, Slash, and Elton John. A fantastically bespangled, foul-mouthed Cher (“I don’t know even what this f—ing award is for”) then appeared to honor him in person and relay a few salty anecdotes from their decades-long friendship.

The night’s momentum was often slowed by lengthy, somewhat rambling speeches from Davis and Grammy head Neil Portnow, so a distracted, several-chardonnays-in crowd wasn’t entirely prepared when R. Kelly stormed in from the rear of the ballroom, electrifying the room almost instantaneously with—no joke—the National Anthem.

From that rockets’ red glare (he wore a red bowtie and red sequined tux scarf to match), Kelly ruthlessly stole the show, moving relentlessly and fantastically through “Step in the Name of Love,” “Your Body’s Calling,” and—cue wild Miley—a quickfire medley of “You Remind Me of Something,” “Bump ‘N Grind,” “Ignition,” and “Down Low,” before asking the audience for a palate-cleansing swig of champagne, which producer Swizz Beats stood up to supply, and ending on “When a Woman Loves.” The man is out of his mind, and he is a wonder.

It was an unlucky artist who had to follow that fandango, but a sleek, red-lipped Jennifer Hudson pulled it out admirably, tearing through her new single “Where You At” and  scorching Aretha Franklin’s often oversung “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” before yielding to Glee star Matthew Morrison and his tiny guitar, plink-plunking his way gently, if anticlimactically, through Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s plaintive version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

A reportedly ill Cee-Lo followed, gamely giving the crowd the “F— You” they demanded before surrendering the stage to the night’s final performance: Whitney Houston’s tribute to her cousin Dionne Warwick. Houston, in a cream sequined column, looked and sounded better than she has in the recent past, throaty and measured. Though her rendition of Warkwick’s “Walk on By” and “Say a Little Prayer,” followed by a duet on “That’s What Friends Are For” with Warwick herself, ultimately felt underwhelming after Kelly’s and Hudson’s vocal acrobatics and theatrical showboating.

Some five hours after its doors opened, stars like the Katy Perry, Keri Hilson, John Mayer, Lady Antebellum, the Foo Fighters and Usher filed out of the ballroom and into the night, off to other, later parties—or, for the more conscientious among them nominated and due to perform at tonight’s ceremony, off to bed.

Image Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.com; Lester Cohen/WireImage.com

Comments (17 total) Add your comment
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  • Mike

    Sigh…I love Janelle Monae.

    • B

      Me too. Is she performing at the Grammys tonight? Probably not. Gotta make time for Justin Bieber and Katy Perry.

      • Mike

        She is indeed performing.

      • SaraJ

        I am sooo sick of Katy Perry and Justin Bieber sucking it up at every awards show. And if Beyonce performs yet again, I will scream.

  • Vivi

    I wished this event is televised or at least shown online. That would be lovely.

    • BJohnson

      Years ago they use to stream it live before streaming was really popular so I’m surprised with all the techno advances that they don’t do it now because it always sounds awesome!

  • cameron

    Glad to see whitney looking fab and healthy. That’s a good look for her.

  • Jalal

    This event sounded wonderful. I love Janelle Monae, Jennifer Hudson, and Whitney Houston and I am so happy to hear their performances were fabulous!

    Stay strong Whitney!

  • Hdf

    The King of R&B does it again! Go R. Kelly!

  • JJ

    R Kelly is King, the greatest, too bad they didn’t air it, the guy can put on a show. Get em Kellz..

  • BossC

    Bring on the Grammys

  • Joyaliz

    One year can they televise this? Always seems better than the Grammys

  • kay tee

    When a woman loves deserves a Grammy. That song is so unique. He sung it to his best ability. I love R. Kelly he is nothing but the best.

  • Manish

    After years of defending the mediocrity that has become her voice, Whitney is clearly in above her head with regard to a continued music career. The brilliance is simply not there, and she should fess up to her limitations without hoodwinking the public with promises of a more executed delivery.

  • Lazarus

    R.kelly is the icon, if you can listens to his quality sound on his music you will bear with me he Boss in R&b.

  • ghdoutlet

    Thanks for interesting blog post. You guys are always provide information that it makes it impossible not to want to buy your next product ;I cant wait to see what you guys come up with based on all your research and data that you gather.

  • juwon

    when i see the truth i speak but when i knw dat some one is geneous r.kelly is d man for d season. believe it or u leave it…i will always keep him in my hrt coz he won’t live twice.

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