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Grammys salute late icon: 'Whitney, we will always love you'

By Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 6:50 AM EST, Mon February 13, 2012
Jennifer Hudson performs in memory of the late Whitney Houston during the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, Sunday.
Jennifer Hudson performs in memory of the late Whitney Houston during the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Jennifer Hudson sings "I Will Always Love You" in a Grammy tribute
  • A clip of Houston's 1994 Grammy performance of the song is replayed Sunday
  • Music luminaries in the audience respond with a standing ovation
  • Stars from Bruno Mars to Stevie Wonder offer their own personal tributes

(CNN) -- One more time, Whitney Houston brought a crowd to its feet.

"I Will Always Love You" had earned record of the year at the 1994 Grammy festivities, with the accompanying "The Bodyguard" soundtrack taking home best album.

But for all the awards that Houston earned that night, it was her voice that resonated most -- as it did throughout her career.

The iconic songstress' range and power were on display once again Sunday night, echoing through the packed Staples Center moments after the music world's luminaries bowed their heads in prayer in honor of her death.

By the time a replay of her 1994 performance was complete, the audience's applause gave way to an emotional standing ovation.

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"Whitney, we will always love you," host LL Cool J said at the 54th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

A day earlier, Houston was pronounced dead in her fourth floor room at a Beverly Hills, California, hotel. The world may wait as many as eight weeks -- when results from toxicology and other tests should be in -- to learn what happened, with Assistant Chief Ed Winter of the Los Angeles County Coroner's office saying little Sunday besides "foul play is not suspected."

Headlines in recent years about Houston have tended to focus more on her battles with drug addiction and her relationship with her ex-husband, "New Edition" performer Bobby Brown, than her musical accomplishments.

Yet recollections of her enormous talent took center stage Sunday night in Los Angeles, as did the six-time Grammy winner's membership in the music world's "family."

LL Cool J, host of the 54th annual Grammy Awards, spoke right away to Houston's personal and professional legacy, soon after taking the stage following an opening performance by Bruce Springsteen.

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"Tonight, we ask ourselves: How do we speak to this time? To this day? There is no way around this. We've had a death in our family," he said.

The rapper and actor then offered his prayer, thanking God "for sharing our sister Whitney with us."

"And although she's gone too soon, we remain truly blessed to have been touched by her beautiful spirit and to have her lasting legacy of music to cherish and share forever," he said.

During the show, stars of past and present -- from Bruno Mars to Stevie Wonder -- celebrated the late singer.

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The sentiments voiced Sunday night echoed those that have been offered ever since news broke of Houston's death from close friends, musical icons and everyday fans who never met the iconic performer but were moved by her music.

Then, after a memorial honoring other stars from Amy Winehouse to Clarence Clemons who also died this past year -- and nearly three hours after LL Cool J promised the Grammys "will remember you the best way we know how: with a song" -- Jennifer Hudson appeared under a bright, solitary spotlight.

Wearing a black sleeveless dress and anchored firmly in the middle of the stage, the Oscar and two-time Grammy winner offered her own rendition of "I Will Always Love You." Twice during the song, the crowd burst into applause.

Hudson offered one small embellishment, changing a lyric to sing: "Whitney, we will always love you."

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