Last week, the entire music industry and artist community gathered ahead of the 62nd GRAMMY Awards, Music’s Biggest Night, for what was music’s biggest pre-party. Held at the glamorous Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 25, the annual Pre-GRAMMY Gala this year celebrated the 2020 GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons honoree: the one and only Sean “Diddy” Combs.
The Pre-GRAMMY Gala, hosted by The Recording Academy and legendary executive Clive Davis, is one of music’s most celebrated and coveted industry events of the entire year. It’s no wonder, then, that the star-studded night welcomed some of the biggest artists, producers, creatives and luminaries across music, film, politics and art, as well as past GRAMMY winners and nominees. Across the glitzy ballroom where the event took place, stars packed out the audience and stage, with everyone from power couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé to pop megastars Dua Lipa, Luis Fonsi and Lana Del Rey in the crowd. Even Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi took a night off from her busy schedule on the Hill to attend, seated next to a bedazzled Billy Porter.
After a rousing opening set from seven-time GRAMMY winner Beck, who immediately jolted the audience with a three-song run, which included his all-time ’90s classics “Loser” and “Where It’s At,” Harvey Mason, Jr., Chair Of The Board and Interim President/CEO of The Recording Academy, took to the stage to officially open the night.
“GRAMMY Week is the time of year when our music communities all come together to celebrate and embrace one another,” he said, “to reflect our accomplishments and acknowledge necessary areas of improvement as we forge ahead on a path to a more inclusive and inviting industry.”
“If you’ve attended this event before, then you’re already aware that tonight is one of those nights,” he continued, “one where history is created right here in this room. Looking around, I’m reminded at just how much of a unifier music really is. This room is the perfect example, with actors, writers, dancers, other creatives who’ve been inspired by the sounds, moments and memories created by some of the musicians here tonight, including our Industry Icon Award recipient, Sean Diddy Combs.”
The theme throughout the night focused on honoring those who have shaped and shifted the biz on an industry-wide scale, the visionaries behind the music who have cultivated an inclusive, diverse landscape where both art and artists could flourish beyond the limits. Perhaps no other record executive best represents this spirit than Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, who next took the stage to a well-deserved standing ovation.
In his short yet impactful speech, he introduced “someone who needs no introduction,” the host of the night: Clive Davis.
“He’s a living legend, an icon and a consummate music man,” Gordy said of Davis. “He has discovered and nurtured countless superstars, picked their hits time after time. And no, I’m not talking about myself.”
For his part as host, Davis paid tribute to the icons and rising legends-in-the-making who attended the night, shouting out giants like Joni Mitchell, Cardi B and Migos‘ Offset, Kygo, Earth, Wind & Fire and others for their lasting contributions to music. In a bit of foreshadowing, he toasted the artists and the various genres that would fill the room for the big night ahead.
“Tonight,” he said, “we have come together as we have for decades to celebrate music, from rock to hip-hop to R&B to pop to country and Latin. I do believe that before this night is over, you will have heard incredible music, and you will have witnessed spectacular performances to remind us all why our lives have been so deeply enriched by our lifelong careers in music. I know that you will walk away with this night of unforgettable music and it will affect you for many years to come.”
Much like the careers of the event’s host and honoree, the night’s musical offerings spanned diverse genres and decades. Guitar god Carlos Santana kicked off the night with an electrifying performance of his chart-topping, GRAMMY-winning “Smooth,” alongside OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, and “Maria Maria,” with help from Wyclef Jean and Miguel. Chance The Rapper followed up with a cool, confident rendition of his track, “Sun Come Down.”
Brandi Carlile, who performed at last year’s Pre-GRAMMY Gala, returned to the stage to wow audiences once again with a performance of “A Case Of You,” followed by a surprise duet of ’80s anthem “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” alongside Cyndi Lauper, the latter of which proved to be the breakout performance of the night. GRAMMY king John Legend shut it down with a soulful rendition of his “A Change Is Gonna Come,” followed by the live debut of his most recent single, “Conversations In The Dark,” another you-had-to-be-there moment in Pre-GRAMMY Gala history. Additional performers included Khalid and Adrienne Warren, an actress, singer and dancer who portrayed Tina Turner in the “TINA: The Tina Turner Musical” Broadway show, who both brought down the house.
Prior to the night’s main presentation, some of Combs’ friends and associates praised the honoree in a touching video, which included tributes from industry leaders like Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Lyor Cohen and Clive Davis himself. One of the night’s major highlights, a cast of Diddy’s closest collaborators performed a medley of hits that pulled from the producer’s decades-long career as well as the deep discography of his renowned Bad Boy Records. Featured performers included Carl Thomas; Lil’ Kim, who performed “It’s All About The Benjamins”; and Ma$e, who performed rap classics “Feel So Good” and “Mo Money Mo Problems.” The career-spanning set came to a heartwarming close with a performance from King Combs, Diddy’s son, who delivered an endearing rendition of “I’ll Be Missing You,” the eternal tribute to The Notorious B.I.G., featuring Bad Boy artist and the track’s original singer, Faith Evans.
As Combs took to the stage, the crowd erupting in cheers and giving him a long standing ovation, he stood in disbelief of the moment. “You know, when people ask me, ‘Did you ever know you’d get to a certain point?’ I always tell them, ‘Yes,'” he remarked. “But I never thought that I would get to this point right here, where my peers would honor me and show me this amount of love.”
Throughout his extensive speech, Combs spoke wistfully of his early life and long career, remembering all the way back to his childhood days when he received his first record player and James Brown 45s to his days as an intern at Uptown Records. He recognized the many figures and industry pioneers who solidified black music and art as an integral part of American culture, including Quincy Jones, Def Jam Recordings co-founder Russell Simmons, Uptown Records founder Andre Harrell and Motown’s Berry Gordy.
“…[Gordy] showed me that there was other things besides music,” he noted, “that music could infiltrate and have an impact. And it wasn’t just about the music. It was about the lifestyle. It was about black culture. And it was about the value and importance of black culture and the importance it was going to have on the world. Berry Gordy was and still is a unicorn. And it just empowered me at another level.”
After giving kudos to the friends, family and associates who helped shape and sharpen his career, he looked ahead at his next mission in the industry.
“My goal used to be about making hit records,” he said. “Now it’s about ensuring that the culture moves forward: my culture, our culture, the black culture. And for me to be worthy of receiving an Icon Award, I have to use my experience to help make a change.”
The night closed by tributing another icon in music: five-time GRAMMY winner Janet Jackson and her chart-topping 1989 album, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, which celebrated its 30-year anniversary last September.
“When I was getting dressed this evening I thought about it and I said to myself, ‘I’ve been in this industry for 47 years,'” Jackson said. “That’s a long time, and I still enjoy going to work. And I feel very blessed to still have my journey ahead of me.”
Cynthia Erivo, a GRAMMY-, Emmy-, and Tony-winning actress and singer-songwriter, brought the event to a thunderous end with a performance of Jackson’s iconic singles “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” and “Together Again,” putting a cap on another magical Pre-GRAMMY Gala night.