“I know he’s called Diddy today, but I knew him when he was Puffy,” said Clive Davis from his annual perch - behind a podium in a ballroom at the Beverly Hilton.
The legendary music industry mogul could tease Sean “Diddy” Combs because the multi-hyphenate star was the recipient of Saturday’s Grammy Salute to Industry Icons Award at the famed Pre-Grammy Gala presented by Davis and the Recording Academy.
As Combs beamed from a table where he was surrounded by family, Davis, 87, acknowledged the “tumultuous time for the Recording Academy” – almost 10 days that have included of the ouster of newly anointed Grammy CEO Deborah Dugan, accusations of sexual harassment, bullying and rigged awards as well as a deep level of public embarrassment for the Recording Academy in the run-up to Sunday’s televised extravaganza.
But, Davis continued, he wanted this night to be about celebrating music.
He pointed out many in the audience, including longtime friends Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, 27-time Grammy Award winner Quincy Jones and Joni Mitchell, who was helped to her feet to accept a gracious ovation. Davis also signaled to Cardi B and Migos’ Offset, who looked charmingly shocked to be acknowledged by the mighty Davis.
The performances at Saturday’s soiree launched with the sprightly Beck, who whirled his slender frame around the stage during his slacker anthem “Loser” and a percussion-fueled “Where It’s At.” Another longtime Davis invitee, Carlos Santana, sliced through the still-chugging “Smooth” with Ryan Tedder filling in for Rob Thomas on vocals, while later musical tributes arrived from Chance the Rapper, Khalid, Brandi Carlile with Cyndi Lauper and Broadway sensation Adrienne Warren, currently slaying the stage in the Tina Turner musical.
But when Combs accepted his award, he reminded the crowd that he had changed his name (yet again) to “Love” and delivered a message “with love” to the Grammys. A message, it turned out, with a spiky appeal.
“Every year y’all be killing us, man…The amount of time it takes to make these records and you just want an even playing field?” he asked before quoting Erykah Badu as saying, “We are artists and we are sensitive about our ****.”
Combs continued, “Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point it should be. This current situation is not a revelation. It’s been going on…and it’s not just going on in the film industry, it’s been going on in film and sports.”
Combs’ impassioned declaration prompted many in the room to stand and shout their agreement. It might not have been what Davis had in mind when he earlier spoke about the passion involved in music, but Combs should be commended for utilizing his platform to literally make a stand.
Earlier in the night on the red carpet, the majority of attending celebrities posed for photos without talking to the press. Atlanta’s 21 Savage flashed a peace sign as he strode into the event, Jermaine Dupri hustled by without stopping, Jack Antonoff sported his omnipresent backward baseball cap with his suit, Deborah Cox paused an interview to embrace Davis as he walked by and Lauper yelled at Erivo, “You’re so GREAT!” before posing in an impromptu photo with her and Billy Porter.
Erivo, who also performed for Combs and will present at the Grammys and perform at the Feb. 9 Academy Awards (she’s nominated for two, including best original song - “Stand Up” from “Harriett”), stopped to chat about being back in Atlanta to film the National Geographic documentary, “Genius: Aretha,” about Aretha Franklin (she recently filmed “The Outsider” in Georgia, which is airing now on HBO).
Erivo said she’s become enamored with “an amazing vegan pizza place” but couldn’t recall the name and is also a big fan of the Slutty Vegan. “They do the best burgers IN THE WORLD. They’re the very best,” she said.
The singer-actress didn’t want to divulge plans for her Oscars performance, but said, “I hope that people get the real message from it. I wanted to include some voices.” She’s also planning to return to Broadway at some point, but “I’m trying to find the thing I WANT to do. It has to be perfect.”
Other red carpet tidbits:
- Deborah Cox has a new BET movie, “Influence,” arriving at the end of February as well as a current single, “Easy Way.” She and Combs have a shared history of arriving in music around the same time in the ‘90s with ties to Arista Records. “He’s always been one of those people who has been fearless and relentless. It takes a lot of faith in yourself to want to step out of yourself,” she said.
As for those early rumors that her name is in contention to posthumously induct Whitney Houston into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cox said she would be honored. “I would love to. I would love for all of us artists who have been inspired by her and came up on her music (to be part of it).”
- Kathie Lee Gifford continues to juggle numerous projects in the near-year since she departed the “Today” show and moved to Nashville. The film she wrote and co-stars in with Craig Ferguson, “Then Came You,” finally has a distribution plan that Gifford said she’ll learn more about this week. She also finished writing a 30-minute oratorio with Louis York that she’ll shoot as a film in Israel in March (it’s part of a series that started last year with Christian singer Nicole C. Mullen) and there is a memoir on the horizon.. “It’s called ‘It’s Never Too Late.’ It’s a lot. This might be the last book I write and this one has been laborious,” she said. But, even though she loves visiting former co-host Hoda Kotb and the “Today” show gang on occasion, Gifford said she doesn’t miss having a daily platform to share her views. “This is not the first time I’ve left a show,” she said with a smile. “I know when to leave and when I’m dying on the vine as an artist, it’s time to leave.”
- Rob Reiner said, “If you’re gonna go to one party, this is the one to go to!” His brilliant 1984 mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap” just celebrated its 35th anniversary with a screening and celebration in New York. “You can’t kill this film with a stick!” he joked.
- Former NBA star Chris Bosh had plenty of praise for Atlanta Hawk breakout Trae Young. “Man, he can play,” Bosh said. “I think Atlanta is well coached. I’ve been there before when you’re a young team and it has nothing to do with your effort or your talent – it just takes a long time to win in the league. But he can shoot the ball, he’s an All-Star, he’s good looking – he’s got everything in front of him.” Bosh attended Georgia Tech in the early 2000s and said he’ll be in Atlanta for April’s NCAA Final Four and plans to stop by his alma mater.
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