Into every annual awards ceremony an “In Memoriam” segment must come, but when it occurs during the Grammy Awards, it isn’t always a sad and somber occasion. This premise was proven handily this year, with a collection of artists including Stevie Wonder, Annie Lennox, Jon Batiste, and Fantasia Barrino providing a blend of musical farewells which – although it did feature at least one emotionally-devastating performance – had virtually the entire Grammy audience on their feet and dancing by the end.
Mind you, things started off slightly awkwardly: as Stevie Wonder started off his tribute to Tony Bennett with a performance of “For Once in My Life,” a 1967 Bennett single that Wonder transformed into a highlight of his own discography in 1968, someone in the production booth accidentally showed a clip of Jimmy Buffett on the screen, then quickly pulled it as Wonder continued his performance.
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After finishing that song, Wonder then launched into a slightly more surprising choice of tune – “The Best Is Yet to Come” – as photos of members of the musical community who died during the course of the past year began to appear onscreen. While Q didn’t track to make sure who was or wasn’t included in the mix, it was notable that the Recording Academy made a point of making sure that Wayne Kramer, who died only a few days ago, was included.
After a quick revisiting of the previously-spotted Jimmy Buffett clip, honoring the pirate balladeer with a snippet of him singing “Come Monday,” it was back to the stage for a performance of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” performed by Annie Lennox, with the trail of a silver teardrop painted on her face. In a lovely nod to the song’s composer, Prince, Lennox was accompanied on the song by Wendy and Lisa, late of the Revolution. Lennox concluded the performance by saying, "Artists for ceasefire. Peace in the world," and making a political statement was, as many others have said, arguably a more perfect way to honor O'Connor than the actual performance.
From there, viewers saw a clip of Burt Bacharach performing “Walk on By,” after which Lenny Kravitz offered a heartfelt tribute to Clarence Avant, the music executive and producer revered as “the Black Godfather” and known for discovering – among other artists – Bill Withers.
In turn, Kravitz introduced a performance by Jon Batiste and Ann Nesby (Sounds of Blackness) accompanied by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on several of Withers’ greatest hits, including “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me.”
Saving the best for last, at least in terms of pure star power, Oprah Winfrey made her way to the stage to honor Tina Turner, reminiscing about her friendship with the singer before introducing Fantasia Barrino to perform a version of "Proud Mary" that brought the house down. As the song requires, she started things out slow before launching headlong into the groove, taking the proceedings into the audience - even getting Dua Lipa into the act - and bringing virtually everyone to their feet.
Yes, it was sad to see all of those who've died during the course of the year passing by during the course of the various performances, but thanks to Barrino's performance, it's hard to imagine anyone not wearing a big grin on their face by the time it was all over.