Chris Pizzello, Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — A year after Whitney Houston's death, music executive Clive Davis remembered her in words — and video.
Houston died last year just hours before the annual Clive Davis Gala was to start. On Saturday, Davis said his world continues "to be so shattered by her passing" and that Houston's death still feels "unreal."
Then Davis played what he called a rare performance of Houston belting "All The Man That I Need" on Saturday the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Houston's brother and sister-in-law, Gary and Pat Houston, attended the gala, where Davis thanked them "for being here tonight." He also called Houston the "greatest, greatest singer of our lifetime."
Dutch electronic artist Afrojack kicked off the performances with a DJ set, but it was Gladys Knight who got the crowd up out of their seats with a closing number.
Her voice — still crisp and loud — felt at ease on "Neither One of Us" and "Midnight Train to Georgia."
"You've been waiting here for a while and we all have to go, and I'm catching a train," the 68-year-old singer said before going into her popular hit that had Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire dancing around his chair.
And Knight wasn't the only performer to leave an impression during Davis' nearly four-hour event.
Scottish singer Emeli Sande was well-received when hitting the right notes on "Heaven." Miguel, who is nominated for five awards at Sunday's Grammys, was energetic when he performed his R&B hit "Adorn." He danced in the middle of the tables in the audience, and at one point sang to Taylor Hawkins' wife Alison — as the Foo Fighters drummer watched on.
Usher, too, brought R&B flavor to the stage when he performed in honor of music executive Antonio "L.A." Reid, who received the president's merit award. Usher sang some of "Burn" and "Climax," which featured the acoustic guitar.
The event was full of A-listers there to enjoy the live music: Johnny Depp, Quincy Jones, Sting, Joni Mitchell, Diddy, Miley Cyrus, Frank Ocean, Dave Grohl, Magic Johnson and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick were in the crowd.
"I've read the papers and I know you've been spending time with," Davis said when announcing that Katy Perry and John Mayer were in the audience.
Usher also drew laughs when he told an old story about Reid signing the then teen to his record label.
"If I never can thank you for anything, it would be for not letting me go with the name Cha Cha," Usher said of his previous stage name.
The pre-Grammy event also featured performances by Patti Smith, best new artist nominees the Lumineers and Jennifer Hudson, who paid tribute to Knight and performed with the singing veteran.
Ne-Yo, Carly Rae Jepsen, Brandy, David Guetta, Babyface, Wiz Khalifa, Jordin Sparks, Tyra Banks and dozens of others attended Davis' gala.
Follow Mesfin Fekadu on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MusicMesfin
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