R&B singer Alicia Keys paid tribute to her idol, Whitney Houston, at Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy party Saturday night, sharing how the music superstar had inspired her.
“You think about how this person touched you,” she said at the event. “You form a friendship, a sisterhood, a bond. You see how incredible they really are. … She was a sister to me.”
Keys, 31, who grew up listening to Houston and wrote “Million Dollar Bill” for Houston’s 2009 comeback album, was one of the last performers to take the stage at the star-studded soiree.
Before she sang a medley of songs including her hit, “No One,” in Houston’s honor, Keys, seated and smiling at the grand piano, belted out that iconic line from Houston’s 1987 hit, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” to thunderous applause.
“I started to think back, think about just how much this person has touched your life, and it’s incredible, it’s incredible - I mean, from being a little girl, like a little girl growing up, watching this beautiful, incredible woman, who was a girl at the time, too. I’m talking about Whitney, and I’d be like, ‘Oh, I want to dance with somebody’,” Keys said and sang.
Keys told fellow music heavyweights and industry titans in the audience: “This one’s for her. Let’s sing her into heaven.”
Keys was one of many in the music world who mourned Houston’s death Saturday.
Keys was photographed outside the Beverly Hilton hotel, where Houston was found dead Saturday and where the gala was held, hugging and consoling a distraught Davis, Houston’s producer and mentor.
Davis asked for a moment of silence at the soiree for Houston, dedicating the night to her and calling her a “beautiful person.” Veteran singer Tony Bennett also performed and Sean “Diddy” Combs shared his memories of the 48-year-old singer with the soulful voice that inspired so many.
For Keys, it wasn’t just Houston’s beauty and voice that drew her to the star, but her similar backstory – a city girl with a soulful voice and enormous success. In an August 2009 interview with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer, Keys described her connection to the singing legend.
“She was just kind of chosen to have a voice that would speak to people,” Keys told Sawyer. “So, that’s what she means to me. She means like this woman who has been with me since I was a young girl and has shown me what it feels like to dream.”
Keys also reminisced about the first Whitney Houston song she heard, likely “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” but said it was more than her Houston’s voice that drew Keys and people to the star.
“You know what I remember more than her voice, because obviously her voice trumps all, is the first time I saw her face, and it was on that beautiful album when her hair was just totally back and it was just her face, and it was just orange,” Keys said, at the time. “It was so just stunning. She just looked like someone you wanted to know, someone you wanted to hear, someone you wanted to listen to.”
In the 2009 interview, Keys also spoke about collaborating with her idol on Houston’s comeback album, “I Look to You.”
“I saw that she was very determined,” Keys said. “I saw that she also has a beautiful vulnerability, too. … I feel that she is ready to come into the world and show us what we’ve been missing.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.