February 17th, 2012
02:14 PM ET
With barely a day to prepare, the Recording Academy pulled off a heartfelt and meaningful tribute to honor Whitney Houston’s legacy at the Grammy Awards on Sunday.
Music industry insiders say that short notice might have been a blessing in disguise.
When a tribute performance is packed with effects and as many celebrities as possible, it becomes a little schmaltzy, said Lyndsey Parker, the managing editor of Yahoo! Music. Jennifer Hudson singing “I Will Always Love You,” with a single spotlight shining down on her, was tasteful and embodied what Houston was all about, Parker added.
Viewers seemed to agree.
Though the tweets were flowing during the Grammys broadcast, traffic came to a halt as soon as Hudson took the stage, the Recording Academy’s Beverly Jackson said at a social media panel, according to AdAge.com.
Once Hudson’s performance was over, Jackson said chatter resumed – most of which was positive, indicating the tribute was well received.
Hudson, who covered Houston when she was a contestant on “American Idol,” appears "to sort of be the go-to person for … honoring late singers and being in memorials,” Parker said. “It makes sense. She came to fame covering other peoples’ songs [on ‘Idol’]. She’s got the pipes and the class and the ability to interpret a song in her own way, but she still respects the original.”
(Hudson also performed at Michael Jackson’s memorial at the Staples Center in 2009. Wearing a white dress, she sang Jackson’s single “Will You Be There,” and was joined on stage by his dancers.)
“She’s definitely a person to have in your Rolodex,” Parker said. “She’s seen as a person who the torch is being passed to. She’s like an old school R&B diva. … You could tell she felt a real personal connection to the song and to Whitney [during her performance on Sunday].”
In addition to beautifully covering Houston’s songs on “Idol,” which not many contestants are able to do, Hudson considered Houston an inspiration. And she was visibly overwhelmed when Houston presented her with her first Grammy Award in 2009, saying, “I don’t really know what to say. First of all, I’ve got Whitney Houston presenting me … wow.”
The best way to pay tribute to someone, especially someone like Houston, whose songs are hard to sing, is to not try and sound exactly like them, Parker said.
Referencing Annie Lenox and George Michael’s tributes to Freddie Mercury, during 1992’s Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness, Parker continued, “They weren’t trying to impersonate him, just honor him. If you try and sing exactly like them, you’ll always pale in comparison.”
Though Fox planned to cover “I Will Always Love You” on Tuesday's “Glee" before Houston died on Saturday, the coincidental tribute garnered mostly positive feedback.
“People really like Amber Riley, and that was a moment for her to shine without the rest of the cast,” Parker said. “It was a tasteful tribute … just one person singing, which is what Whitney was all about.”
Parker said Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt’s tribute to Etta James at the Grammy Awards was also nicely done.
With Keys on the piano and Raitt playing the guitar, the pair sang James’ “Sunday Kind of Love.”
Senior R&B Correspondent for Billboard, Gail Mitchell, who said she also prefers a stripped down musical tribute, was pleased with Hudson’s performance, saying, “I don’t know how she had the fortitude to get through [the song], but she did.”
Whitney inspired so many people, she added.
“They just want to show their feelings for her. … They want to give back the best way they know how, and that’s to sing.”
CNN has learned that Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Kim Burrell will perform at Houston’s funeral on Saturday. BeBe Winans told “Showbiz Tonight” that he and his sister, CeCe Winans, would also sing a duet.
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