Lauren is a former Deputy Editor of The Root.
Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney, is slated to sing a much-anticipated tribute to her late daughter at the 2012 BET Awards on July 1. Memorial performances have become part and parcel of award shows these days. Here are 12 of the most memorable — from Chris Brown's weepy Michael Jackson homage to Christina Aguilera's send-off for the Godfather of Soul.
James Brown died on Christmas Day in 2006, about a month and a half before the 2007 Grammy Awards aired. The artist chosen to sing his tribute at the show was, in some ways, an unlikely choice — Christina Aguilera, at that point somewhat of a fading pop star. But her soulful, theatrical performance of "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" would have made even Brown proud.
BET was cursed with the formidable task of putting together a suitable tribute at its 2009 award show just three days after arguably the most famous musician in the world had died. Fans expected a lot from the black entertainment network, and some critics thought it fell short — although several artists, including Ne-Yo, Ciara and New Edition, performed the King of Pop's songs for the mourning audience.
Criticism of the 2009 show was noted, and in 2010 the BET Awards showcased a far more intricate Michael Jackson tribute that was controversial for a different reason. The dancing, singing phenom chosen to say goodbye to Jackson was none other than Chris Brown, who, if his weeping during "Man in the Mirror" is any indication, thought of the (undeniably impressive) performance as not just a farewell to his idol but a redemption of sorts for himself as well.
Just like the BET Awards in 2009, the 2012 Grammy Awards came right on the heels of a devastating death in the music world. While in Los Angeles for the show, Whitney Houston died unexpectedly in her hotel room. With only a day to prepare, producers added just one performance — an emotional Jennifer Hudson sang Houston's most famous song, "I Will Always Love You." While no one can match Houston's vocals on the classic, Hudson definitely did her justice — and on very short notice.
A few months after the Notorious B.I.G. was shot and killed in March 1997, Sean "Diddy" Combs (then Sean "Puffy Daddy" Combs) performed "I'll Be Missing You," his ode to his fallen friend, at the MTV Video Music Awards. In true, over-the-top Combs fashion, he rapped and danced across the stage while Sting; Biggie's widow, Faith Evans; R&B group 112; and a huge gospel choir sang backup vocals. He also managed to give a shoutout to other celebrities who had recently died, including Gianni Versace, Tupac Shakur and Princess Diana.
At the 1985 American Music Awards, a year after Marvin Gaye was fatally shot by his father, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder gave speeches in his honor that were followed by an airing of the music video for Ross' hit single "Missing You," which was written as a tribute to him. It's all a bit 1980s-cheesy but moving nonetheless.
Fans of R&B singer Aaliyah were shocked and saddened when she died in an August 2001 plane crash at the age of 22. At the MTV Video Music Awards the following month, Missy Elliott rather awkwardly tacked a tribute to her friend to the end of a performance of her hits "Get Your Freak On" and "One Minute Man." The next year at the 2002 BET Awards, both Aaliyah and Left Eye of TLC, who died in a Honduras car crash in April of 2002, were remembered.
In an homage to Etta James at the 2012 Grammy Awards, Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt teamed up to sing "Sunday Kind of Love." Although the death of James might have been slightly overshadowed at the awards ceremony by the unexpected loss of Whitney Houston, Raitt and Keys made sure they gave the late R&B diva her due.
Who better to honor Ray Charles in song than Jamie Foxx, who won an Oscar for his uncanny ability to mimic the musical legend in the 2004 biopic Ray? Foxx was joined by Alicia Keys at the 2005 Grammy Awards to pay tribute to Charles, who had died the previous year, with a rendition of "Georgia on My Mind." It proved to be the "Night and Day" singer's evening — he also won eight Grammy Awards.
Despite soul singer Amy Winehouse's reputation for living dangerously, it came as a sad surprise to many when she died in 2011 at the age of 27. But at the MTV Video Music Awards that year, the eternally upbeat pop star Bruno Mars performed Winehouse's song "Valerie," paying a bright and cheerful homage to the tragic singer.
The 2002 murder of Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay has never been solved, but instead of focusing on the negative, Grandmaster Flash, Kid Rock and Chuck D chose to celebrate the hip-hop pioneer at the 2002 VH1 Big in 2002 Awards with an old-school medley.
It was supposed to be a tribute to Soul Train's Don Cornelius, who died in February, but the David Guetta-Chris Brown-Lil Wayne performance at the 2012 Grammys came across as more like a tribute to Ibiza-style dance music than anything else.