Wiz Khalifa, Ne-Yo, LL Cool J and ‘Sparkle’ co-star Tika Sumpter all pay tribute to the late icon.
By Kelley L. Carter
Saturday night (February 11) before the Grammys is supposed to be a celebration.
Instead, on the red carpet at LL Cool J‘s pre-Grammy dinner party and Clive Davis’ annual soiree, tribute was paid and tears were shed after the news that Whitney Houston was found dead earlier that day.
With the news so fresh in their minds, Houston’s celebrity friends were feeling the loss immensely.
“I remember hearing her voice and thinking it was the most amazing and powerful voice I’d heard in my life. To this day, it can’t even be matched,” rapper Wiz Khalifa told MTV News on the Clive Davis red carpet. ” … We’re going to celebrate her life and the great things that she’s done. This is her night.”
Inside the Clive Davis party, Houston’s mentor took a moment to share some words about his most famous discovery. “Whitney loved music and loved this night that celebrates music,” he told the crowd of celebrities and industry insiders. “Whitney was a beautiful person with talent beyond compare. She gave so many memorable performances here over the years. Her family asked that we carry on.”
Diddy shared his memories of Houston onstage: “If you sat next to Whitney anywhere, you knew she was in for a good time. … She gave you a grandma hug that shook your body.”
When Alicia Keys performed at Davis’ party, she spoke of her “kindred sisterhood” with Houston, whom she has collaborated with in the past. “The same man who helped her dreams come true helped my dreams come true,” Keys’ said of sharing mentor Davis with the late singer.
Tony Bennett also toasted Whitney, singing in her honor Frank Sinatra’s “Music Never Ends,” which he said “Frank asked me to sing. … Dedicated to Whitney, the greatest singer I ever heard in my life.”
“There was nothing she couldn’t do except conquer that demon that we all were aware of,” former late-night talk-show host Arsenio Hall told MTV News at the LL party. “Whitney could sing. Whitney could act. Whitney was incredibly funny. I remember nights hanging out with Whitney and just laughing until your stomach hurts.”
LL, who had just come from his final rehearsal before hosting Sunday’s Grammys, said the show will be changed to honor Houston. He didn’t want to divulge specifics, except to say “of course it affects it. How could it not affect it? But we’ll, as a team … everybody involved with the Grammys, we want to give her respect. We’ll do something.”
The rapper and actor also talked about Houston’s rich legacy, saying, “She was the pop queen. All the little girls wanted to sing like her. She was just like a member of a lot of people’s families. It’s devastating. … A great artist, great person. We go through so many ups and downs in life, but you just remember that voice.”
At the Clive Davis event, singer/songwriter Ne-Yo echoed LL, saying, “Any little girl that wanted … to be a real singer — not a pop star, but a singer — there’s no way that that little girl can say that she wasn’t influenced by Whitney Houston. No possible way.”
NBA legend Magic Johnson said he was longtime friends with Houston. He smiled when thinking about her and said he rarely missed a show when she performed in Los Angeles. Johnson said Houston had recently performed “Happy Birthday” for his wife, Cookie.
“That’s who she was. She had a good heart. We shared so many moments with her. She thrilled us with being onscreen with her movies and everything. She always wanted to know how my theaters were doing, especially when she had a movie. She’d check and be like, ‘How’d it do at the box office?’ She was a great woman. It’s sad that this had to happen. This is tough for everybody,” Johnson said.
Actress Tika Sumpter, who recently worked with Houston in the forthcoming “Sparkle,” was crying and said it was hard to smile on the red carpet. She plays one of Houston’s daughters in the film, alongside Jordin Sparks and Carmen Egojo.
Sumpter said she hadn’t spoken with any of her castmembers since learning of Houston’s death earlier that day. “It’s so hard to talk about this right now. I got to work with her. And she’s an awesome woman. I thought of her as a second mom, and she thought of us as her daughters,” she said. “I’m excited for people to see how brilliant she is in it. I’m just happy that I was able to play her daughter.”
Join us for a tribute to Whitney Houston with non-stop music videos on MTV Hits and MTV Jams, all day Sunday.
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