February 12th, 2012
07:36 PM ET
As the Recording Academy gets ready for the 54th Grammy Awards to kick off at 8 p.m., a more somber mood lingers on the red carpet.
Among the many notable names that the music industry has lost in the past year, Whitney Houston is the latest to join the list. Executive producer Ken Ehrlich said Saturday that they were retooling the show to include a respectful tribute to the legendary entertainer, with aid from Jennifer Hudson.
On Sunday's red carpet, everyone acknowledged that this is a night to honor the best in the industry, especially those who are no longer with us.
"No one is like [Whitney Houston]," said Brit artist Jessie J, who sung at Davis' pre-Grammy gala. "It was a united sound. Everyone knows Whitney Houston, and everyone still will. I don’t think that without her, I would be here. She gave me the strength to believe that it was OK to [sing] loud and powerful. She made me believe that I could do it on my own."
Saturday night's performance was "overwhelming," Jessie J admitted, but said, "I had to keep it together and sing for Whitney. This trip was all about that. I had a wish list when I was 17, and on that was for Whitney to hear me sing live. I don’t think [the news of her death] has sunk in yet, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to sing for her...I feel for her daughter [Bobbi Kristina], and my love is with her."
Billy Ray Cyrus was also heartbroken as he walked the red carpet, telling CNN, "I come here with a heavy heart, I lost a friend, and I was impacted a great deal by her music and her life, as both a singer and an actress."
The past couple of years especially "have been tough" for music, Cyrus said. "We lost a couple of the greats. Etta James was a great friend of mine, and [my daughter] Miley and I used to drive in often to the tapings of 'Hannah Montana' listening to the recordings of Etta James…[and] I’m still mourning over the fact of losing Michael Jackson. And then to be here tonight with the loss of Whitney Houston, you’re never prepared to lose someone that young, that talented, that much of a light in the world. Her music and her legacy and her talent will live on. That’s the good news."
There's the sense, said Damian Kulash of OK Go, that when you hear a voice that great, you think it'll never go away. "We’re the generation that grew up with her on the radio 24/7," he said of his band, "[and] she was the soundtrack to our youth. We sort of figured that a voice like that will be around forever."
The news was still sinking in for Ice T as well. "We look at our celebrities day in and day out, and you know that they go through trouble, but you don’t think that they can die," he told CNN.
Best new artist Grammy nominee J. Cole said he never got the chance to meet Houston, but noted, "The whole world loves Whitney. That voice is incredible, even through all her problems, we still root for her, we still love her."
Bonnie Raitt, who is performing with Alicia Keys in a tribute to Etta James tonight, told CNN that she and Keys will perform "Sunday Kind of Love."
"[James] was a friend of mine so I was already emotional to be playing tribute to her," Raitt said. "No one could have known that Whitney was going to be part of this tribute too. They rewrote the beginning of the show. It’ll be a celebration of their lives, but everyone’s been altered."
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