Whitney Houston "would have wanted the music to go on," said industry mogul Clive Davis, who opted to proceed with his annual Grammy-eve party at the Beverly Hilton, where hours earlier the pop icon he signed and mentored was pronounced dead at 48.
"She loved music and she loved this night that celebrates music," said Davis, adding that Houston's family requested that the party continue.
The mood, however, at least at the evening's start, was far from celebratory. Attendees filing into Davis' event hugged one another, wearing dour or dazed expressions, and many were seen shaking their heads, even as music at the hotel thumped loudly. Davis, who spotted a 19-year-old Houston at a showcase in Sweetwaters supper club in Manhattan, has been hosting a pre-Grammy event for more than three decades. Houston was to attend the gala.
FULL COVERAGE: Whitney Houston
The artist, who regularly ruled the pop charts throughout the '80s and '90s, was found unresponsive in her Beverly Hilton room Saturday afternoon, police reported. Fire Department officials were dispatched to the hotel after receiving a 911 call about 3:43 p.m., said a statement from Beverly Hills police.
"By now you have all learned of the unspeakably tragic news of our beloved Whitney’s passing," Davis said at evening's start. "I don't have to mask my emotion in front of a room full of so many dear friends. I am personally devastated by the loss of someone who has meant so much to me for so many years. Whitney was so full of life. She was so looking forward to tonight even though she wasn't scheduled to perform."
He continued, "Whitney was a beautiful person and a talent beyond compare. She graced this stage with her regal presence and gave so many memorable performances here over the years. Simply put, Whitney would have wanted the music to go on and her family asked that we carry on."
PHOTOS: Whitney Houston | 1963-2012
Among those Houston was expected to rub elbows with were Quincy Jones, Tony Bennett, Akon, Cee Lo Green, Miley Cyrus, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Jennifer Hudson, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello and Diana Krall.
The evening early on morphed into a tribute to Houston. Ray Davies preceded a medley of some of the Kinks' signature songs by giving an a cappella reading of the group's benedictory song "Days": "I bless the light that shines on you, believe me / Though you're gone, you're with me every single day, believe me." He proceeded to sing a couple of the Kinks' most elegiac songs: "Waterloo Sunset" and "Celluloid Heroes."
Combs gave a moving talk about Houston, and crooner Bennett drew some applause, as well as some looks of hushed disbelief, when the 85-year-old singer urged the audience to support the legalization of drugs. Houston's 2009 comeback album, "I Look to You," followed nearly a decade of public ups and downs and struggles with illegal substances.
Recording Academy President Neil Portnow reminisced about seeing an early performance of Houston's. Portnow worked for Davis when the latter signed Houston to Arista Records in the early '80s. He said canceling the pre-Grammy ball was "never an option." "We'd have heard Whitney's voice on our shoulders saying, 'Guys, this is show business. The show must go on,' " he said.
PHOTOS: Stars react to Whitney Houston's death
Before the start of the Davis-hosted party, it was announced that Sunday's Grammy Awards would feature a tribute to Houston performed by Jennifer Hudson. "There could be nothing more appropriate than Jennifer Hudson singing Whitney Houston on stage," Portnow said of the decision to tap the young star to honor Houston.
Earlier, Grammys Executive Producer Ken Ehrlich said, "It's too fresh in everyone's memory to do more at this time, but we would be remiss if we didn't recognize Whitney's remarkable contribution to music fans in general, and in particular her close ties with the Grammy telecast and her Grammy wins and nominations over the years."
Pop & Hiss will have more on Davis' pre-Grammy gala and the reactions to Houston's passing.
[For the record, 8:38 a.m. Feb. 12: An earlier version of this post misspelled the last name of Grammys Executive Producer Ken Ehrlich as Erhlich.]
Body moved to morgue
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Medics performed CPR for about 20 minutes
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-- Reporting by Randy Lewis, Geoff Boucher and Randall Roberts
Photo: Clive Davis, left, with Sean "Puffy" Combs. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images