Producer Swizz Beatz, singer Alicia Keys and Chief Creative Officer of Sony Music Entertainment, Clive Davis arrive at the Clive Davis and The Recording Academy's 2012 Pre-GRAMMY Gala And Salute To Industry Icons Honoring Richard Branson on Feburary 11, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California.(Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES -- USA TODAY's Edna Gundersen was inside Clive Davis' annual pre-Grammy gala, which is continued as planned Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton, where Whitney Houston died Saturday afternoon. USA TODAY's Bryan Alexander and Andrea Mandell reported from outside of the hotel.
A noisy, lively crowd gathered at Davis' party, but many expressed shock at the news of Houston's death and feel it's surreal to be celebrating in light of the fact that Houston's body was still in the building. Star in attendance included: Tom and Rita Hanks, Jon Voight, Britney Spears, David Foster, Dianne Warren, Penny Marshall,Toni Braxton, Neil and Pegi Young and Skrillex.
An emotional Clive Davis came onstage at 9:38 p.m. PT.
"I don't have to mask my emotions. I do have a very heavy heart. I am personally devastated. She was so looking forward to tonight," he said. (She was not scheduled to perform, only attend.)
"My heart goes out to her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, and her mother, Cissy." Davis talked about the partygoers as Houston's extended family. "Whitney was a beautiful person and she had a talent beyond compare. She graced this stage with her regal talent so many times. So, simply put, Whitney would have wanted the music to go on."
He dedicated the evening to Houston and said the gala went on with the blessing of her family. "Now, ladies and gentlemen, let the music begin."
Tony Bennett came on stage and said, "First, Michael Jackson, then Amy Winehouse and now Whitney Houston. I'd like to have every gentleman and lady in this room to get the government to legalize drugs."
He said: "When I first heard her, I called Clive Davis and said, 'You finally got the greatest singer I ever heard.' "
Grammy president Neil Portnow confirmed to partygoers that Jennifer Hudson will perform at the Grammys in Houston's honor. Portnow said Houston would have wanted it that way and that she deserves a New Orleans-style "send-up, a "celebration. ... That's the appropriate and right thing to do."
Meanwhile, at one of the side entrances to the hotel, a small vigil of about 25 people has formed. Monet Mitchell, 29, an extra on Houston's latest film, Sparkle, said the last time she saw Houston she was "so happy, so full of life. That's why this is such a shock to me."
"She was the greatest singer. This is so devastating, I had to come over here and pay my respects. She inspired me. She was so much more than an actress and a singer, she was my inspiration. I'm standing here and I still can't believe it happened."
Melody Doss, 48, of Los Angeles, had three mini-candles and a larger 24-hour candle. "As soon as I heard Whitney Houston died, I had to come over here. I was able to light a candle for Michael Jackson when he passed. ... Candle lighting is much in order, and I'm sure this will go all the way around the world. ... All I want to do is illuminate the departure of her soul with these candles."