Kelly Rowland Kelly Rowland

The annual celebration of music's brightest stars turned into an emotional tribute for one of the most iconic performers of all time, after Whitney Houston suddenly passed away on February 11, a day before the Grammy Awards.

"This is my 11th show, and I would say this is the most emotional Grammys that I've ever personally been involved in... but it needed to be," said Neil Portnow, president of The Recording Academy, after the show.

"My goal was pretty clear," he added. "[The tribute] needed to be simple, it needed to be elegant, it needed to be uplifting, it needed to be inspirational and it needed to be healing because we're all hurting so badly."

Moments before the show, guests and performers shared their thoughts on Houston's death as they hit the busy red carpet with mixed emotions. "I feel conflicted," Gayle King told TV Guide Magazine. "You want to celebrate the people who have worked so hard all year long, but of course everybody feels very sad about the passing of Whitney Houston."

Guests came prepared to share their favorite memory or Whitney song, and the admiration for Houston's talent was unanimous among her peers. "Whitney Houston was a brilliant singer, [and] a great technician," said Corinne Bailey Ray. "As a girl, I was inspired by her joyfulness, and as a musician I'm inspired by her technical skills and the way she made something sound effortless."

The awards show itself — a series of complex puzzle pieces that somehow come together the evening before the live telecast — also faced some challenges, with a last-minute addition of "I Will Always Love You" performed by Jennifer Hudson. Prior to the show, Kelly Rowland expressed concern for her friend and the pressure to perform under the circumstances. "I don't know how she's going to contain her emotions," the Destiny's Child singer said. "I know she is [nervous]."

And while many relived their encounters with the legendary songstress, others were thrilled just to have been part of her life in some small way. "I didn't meet her, but I met [Whitney's daughter] Bobbi Kristina, and she said that they watched Drake & Josh and her mom thought I was funny," recalls Community's Yvette Nicole Brown. "So she knew that I existed and that was enough for me."

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