Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Gladys Knight: 12 Highlights From Clive Davis' Pre-GRAMMY Gala
On your average Saturday evening in New York City, there are a lot of hot tickets in town. But no ticket packed more heat than the one that gained entrance to Clive Davis' And The Recording Academy's Pre-GRAMMY Gala.
Hosted at the Sheraton Times Square, the traditional party convened a cornucopia of stars spanning business, music, film, TV, and sports. Where else are you going to see the head of Starbucks, Martha Stewart and Cardi B in the same room? Only at Clive Davis' event and only in New York.
While Davis was the emcee, the night's guest of honor was 21-time GRAMMY winner — and eight-time 60th GRAMMY nominee — Jay-Z, who received the 2018 Salute To Industry Icons award in recognition of his unparalleled career as a rapper, businessman and philanthropist. The evening's performances paid tribute to both Hova and the vitality of the Big Apple. Here are 12 highlights from the program.
Who Was There?
The guest list was off the hook as expected. Some of the luminaries on hand to celebrate the eve of Music's Biggest Night were Quincy Jones, Jerry Seinfeld, Sean "Diddy" Combs, New York Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, composer Andrew Lloyd Weber, actress Katie Holmes, Cardi B, Mariah Carey, "Today" host Hoda Kotb, Martha Stewart, Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz Starbucks, and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Barry Manilow Sparkles For New York
"What better artist to celebrate New York?" said Davis as he introduced the evening's first performer. Donning a sparkly black blazer, Brooklyn's own Barry Manilow dazzled with a two-song medley that doubled as a snapshot of the GRAMMYs' return to New York. He performed "This Is My Town," the title track to his 2017 album championing his home city, as well as an upbeat take of the Big Apple classic Frank Sinatra made famous, "Theme From New York, New York."
Luis Fonsi Spices Up The Night
Breakout Latin pop star Luis Fonsi lit up the room with his performance of "Echame La Culpa," coaxing most of the superstar audience out of their seats to dance to the infectious groove. Fonsi followed up with his biggest hit — and the biggest hit of the past year — "Despacito," proving the song is worthy of its three GRAMMY nominations going into Sunday's ceremonies.
Migos Bring Southern Rap Center Stage
Migos — Quavo, Offset and Takeoff — took command of the stage and dropped some rap in the form of their GRAMMY-nominated viral hit "Bad And Boujee." The Atlanta trio's rhymes were ruthless as the booming low end permeated the ballroom, knocking over a wine glass or two. Migos are also up for Best Rap Album for Culture.
Ben Platt Waves Hello
It's impossible to separate New York City from Broadway, and as one of the Big Apple's oldest traditions, there are few musical platforms with more star-making power. Ben Platt of the cast of GRAMMY-nominated show "Dear Evan Hanson" delivered a rousing rendition of "Waving Through A Window" that gave the crowd a look into not only why his show has been such a success, but also why he's a center-stage talent who is here to stay. The performance also served as a nice warm-up for Platt, who will be taking the GRAMMY stage on Sunday.
More Broadway With Leslie Odom Jr.
The authentic sounds of "Hamilton" were appropriately represented with Leslie Odom Jr. helming "The Room Where It Happens." The hit musical has reinvigorated theater all over the world, and given NYC is "Hamilton"'s backyard, Odom's flare positively electrified the ballroom. "'Hamilton' was a love letter to the inspiration that so many of you have provided us," he said.
Gladys Knight Reigns Supreme
On a night with this many stellar performances, it's impossible to pick just one standout. But perhaps even the stellar performers themselves would agree that Gladys Knight brought the house down. Starting with "Stand By Me," which wowed the crowd to their feet, Knight proved she can still command the stage. At Davis' request, she then performed "Midnight Train To Georgia," sending the room into a frenzy with nostalgia, reverence and excitement that seemed impossible to top.
Alicia Keys Stuns With Jay-Z Tribute
Described as the "quintessential Renaissance woman" by Davis, Alicia Keys positively mesmerized the audience — including Jay-Z himself — with an inventive medley of the fellow GRAMMY winner's songs.
"I'm here tonight to do something really special for me, for us," said Keys. "I'm here to honor one of the greatest that's ever done it. I'm also here because before anything else I was a true fan of your music Jay. I still am."
Leading the charge at the piano, Keys then proceeded to play her "favorite joints" from Hova's catalog, taking the audience on a thrill ride through various moods and textures. The packed medley included excerpts from "Feelin' It," "Hard Knock Life," "Holy Grail," "Run This Town," "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)," and "Empire State Of Mind." The once-in-a-lifetime performance seemed almost too good to be true.
"That was like a dream," she said before leaving the stage.
Introduced by Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow as the "ultimate music person" — and drawing a "Hova, Hova" chant — Jay-Z was visibly humbled by his recognition when he took the podium. During his Salute To Industry Icons speech, he thanked everyone from his wife Beyoncé to the Academy and Alicia Keys for her tribute.
Jay-Z also commended his fellow peers in the audience, many of them past GRAMMY winners and current nominees, and urged them to keep the path. "It's our duty to make sure that not only are we making the greatest art, that we're upholding and supporting things that are super real," he said.
As he left stage, Jay-Z clutched his new award and remarked, "This s*** is super heavy."
It's easy to forget on a night with so many massive names in the music world that Khalid, the teen pop prodigy, as some have called him, is up for a whopping five GRAMMYs this year. The young man from El Paso, Texas, reminded us why as he effortlessly sauntered through his laid-back hit "Young, Dumb & Broke." It is Khalid's ability to be natural that shows why he's had such a breakout year, and by nailing this high-pressure performance plus Davis' endorsement, why he's here to stay.
Khalid And Logic's Poignant Moment
It's been a bright spot in music over the past year and Logic and Khalid's moving "1-800-273-8255" proved to uplift the gala as well. The anthem for suicide prevention is truly about reaching people to let them know that there is help. And fittingly, Logic saluted Jay-Z for his help in being one of his primary inspirations.
Jennifer Hudson Channels Aretha
Just when the crowd of celebrities and music industry executives thought maybe they'd seen it all, Jennifer Hudson took the stage to honor the great Aretha Franklin with a trio of numbers, starting with "Spirit In The Dark." Hudson demonstrated why she's today's go-to powerhouse singer as her voice climbed up and swooped down on "Oh Me Oh My," giving the gala's guests much more than their money's worth. To close the show, she launched into the Aretha classic, "Think," saying "This one's for me." She brought the house down with her soaring and soulful vocal work, channeling her hero, and enjoying every note.