If you liked Alicia Keys (and her amazing duet with Frank Sinatra, her poised intro to the show), the spectacular Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and Little Richard during the Grammy show, you shoulda seen the shows after the show.
That’s because the real Grammys took place right after the cameras and lights went off. Everyone who was anyone headed over to the Convention Center next door for the amazing salute to Berry Gordy, founder of Motown.
Motown, like the Grammys, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
So Stevie Wonder — with Herbie Hancock and Ne-Yo, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie and the gifted “younger generation” star Jill Scott performed for an exclusive invited crowd of about 300 people, catered by Wolfgang Puck and organized by Gordy’s life long protégé/famous movie and TV producer, Suzanne dePasse.
All the Gordy family was there, a lot of Stevie’s, plus the writers who made Motown such a stunning success, like Valerie Simpson and Nik Ashford, Eddie Holland as well as Sam “Soul Man” Moore, Gayle King and a host of other record company legends like Mo Ostin of the real, late and lamented Warner Bros. Records, Doug Morris and Sylvia Rhone of Universal, A&M Records founder Jerry Moss, Quincy Jones, producer Jimmy Jam Harris, Evander Holyfield, Barry Bonds and famed Elvis Presley engineer Mike Moran and wife Linda, who heads up the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Did I mention that Prince came in, sat in the back of the beautifully lit room and listened to testimonials from Benny Medina, Smokey, Stevie and Jimmy Jam? Usher was there, too, with wife Tameka, very graciously paying respects to Gordy for creating the world of R&B that he now stars in.
Smokey took the mike after Jill Scott serenaded Gordy with Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache” and tore down the house with an impromptu “Tracks of My Tears” that was perfection itself.
His ex-wife Miracle Claudette Robinson was among those who gave him a standing O. Lionel Richie sauntered over to the keyboards to say “Hello (Is That Me You’re Looking For)” for the '80s Motown crowd.
And then Stevie — genius, remarkable Stevie — thanked Berry for allowing him to buy his mother great things when she was alive. It would have been maudlin, except Stevie’s phone started ringing during his speech. He answered it, and said, “Mom? Is this my mother calling from heaven?” He even cracked himself up!
Then Stevie, Ne-Yo and special guest Hancock — who’d just won the Best Album of the Year —knocked out a ferocious version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” with Stevie on a jammin’ harmonica, Ne-Yo on vocals and Herbie on keyboards.
“I don’t want to disrespect Marvin, but I’ll give it a try,” said Ne-Yo, who is among the few contemporary R&B stars who get it, like Alicia, John Legend, Wyclef Jean, Anthony Hamilton, Bebe Winans, Van Hunt and Ryan Shaw.
There was no disrespect at all, and even Anna Gordy Gaye, Berry’s sister and famous Marvin’s ex-wife, clapped her hands in approval. (It was Anna to whom Marvin infamously dedicated his “Hear, My Dear” album in 1972, between the releases of “What’s Going On” and “Let’s Get it On,” as a divorce prize. She told me she loved the record. Her favorite Marvin record? “I really love them all,” she said.)
But then Stevie and Herbie lit into a spectacular jam on Stevie’s “Always” from “Songs in the Key of Life” that really, I hope, was recorded because it was insane, for lack of any other way to describe it, insanely surreal. Just beautiful. And funny, considering Stevie’s loving testimonial to Gordy. “You even paid me for 'Songs in the Key of Life,'” Wonder joked before he went on, “and that was very nice.”
The double album is now a classic, was the Best Album of Year, etc. and produced several hit singles. Stevie said, recalling how his mother negotiated his contract with Gordy when he was 10 years old, “I came to you when I was 10 and I’m still here, so I guess I’m committed.” He added: “I’m glad I wasn’t up for a Grammy tonight! I was able to enjoy everything and it was wonderful."
Smokey brought everyone to tears, of course — you know he’s the great toastmaster while Stevie’s the house mimic — calling Gordy his “best friend” and that he loved him, “the kind love between two straight men” making everyone feel gushy and producing a big “awwww” from the audience.
Gordy — who, let’s face it, has had to balance his enormous success with lots of controversy over the years — told me he was overwhelmed by the attention before the proceedings began and waves of people rolled through the room toward him.
“I thought it was just a little thing,” he said, shaking his head and then shaking 300 hands.
He told the guests when he was finally given the Icon award:
“What a life! What a wonderful life I’ve had,” said the remarkably fit and young looking 78-year-old. He added: “I was a failure at everything I did until I was 29,” and talked about how, seeing the cars on the line at Ford Motors, where he worked, he wondered if he could process music stars the same way, create them and build them. Fascinating.
We got a glimpse into the persona of this very successful man who’s had such an enormous influence on world culture for half a century. He said he’d been worried about the Motown legacy and the “dangerous” direction it was going in. It was perhaps a veiled reference to the notion that “Dreamgirls” was about him. (It wasn’t.)
It was interesting to hear that for Gordy, much of his life has been about protecting that legacy. For example, even though he sold his music publishing giant Jobete to EMI several years ago, he retains all kinds of controls. Gordy is unprecedented in so many ways in the music business.
“If the lions don’t write their own history, the hunters will,” he said.
So where did everyone go when the 50th annual Grammys ended? Josh Groban -- fresh from his astounding bravura success with Andrea Bocelli on the show — rolled into Jerry’s Deli on Beverly around 2:30 a.m. with his assistant and a pal. Where had they been?
“At the Warner party. We kissed the ring,” laughed the good-natured Groban.
This, of course, is a joke. The Warner M. Group people should be kissing his ring. After selling nearly 4 million copies of his Christmas album last year, Groban is now technically a free agent. WMG will have to match a lot of amazing offers if they want him to stay. That’s a lot of pastrami, friends. ...
While the Motown event proceeded, just down the hall, in the big ballroom of the Convention Center, Cyndi Lauper — with a big blonde wig — played to a couple thousand cheering, dancing, screaming, singing along and formally dressed fans.
Her voice never sounded better. It was kind amazing to wander in from the Stevie/Smokey world into this one. Cyndi is one of our greatest pop stars who like so many others is too big for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. …
Over at STK restaurant on La Cienega, Entertainment Weekly feted Def Jam’s L.A. Reid. Beyonce and Jay-Z, Usher and wife Tameka, Chris Brown, Kanye West — who played his new video for the crowd and Janet Jackson and Jermaine Dupri were among the guests.
Mariah Carey was supposed to come over after finishing a video shoot, but 1:30 a.m. was my cut-off time. …
At Sony BMG’s party at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Clive Davis — happy that Alicia Keys won two out of two and her overall 11th Grammy — held court in a sultan’s tent by the pool while throngs danced and ate. ...
Universal Music partied at the Palm downtown, meaning Doug Morris couldn’t stay too long with the Gordy gala but started his night there. He told me, “Roger! U2 is signed to us for the rest of their lives. They’re not going anywhere! We love them, they love us!” …
Over at Jerry’s Deli on Beverly: the whole new EMI crowd including Guy Hands stopped in after their mini-reception next door at Dominick’s, which featured the Beatles crew of Ringo and Barbara (Bach) Starr, Barbara’s sister Marjorie and Joe Walsh. Olivia (with son Dhani) Harrison, George Harrison and son Giles — who deservedly won the Grammy for their Las Vegas “Love” album, and the hard-partying Yoko Ono. …
Paul McCartney, nominated for Best Rock Album, did not come to town. A record biz insider told me he said he’d only play the Grammys “if he was guaranteed a win.” I don’t know why this was so difficult to negotiate. A lot of people backstage seemed to be clairvoyant about their successes. …
Oh yeah, missing from the Gordy tribute: Michael Jackson, who punked out and went back to Las Vegas, any other Jacksons, Diana Ross (who’s seen all the time shopping in Ralph’s near Cedars-Sinai), Gladys Knight (well, she left Motown bitterly in 1973 and had her biggest hit ever with “Midnight Train to Georgia” on Buddah Records) and Mary Wilson (working, not always on the best terms with The Man). …
Lots of sentiment from the Detroit visitors about the Four Tops’ amazing, wonderful, legendary, genius, universally loved Levi Stubbs. Levi has the best bass baritone voice in modern pop history, bar none, but has had some health setbacks in recent years. But he is more a part of the Motown legacy than anyone! Levi, you were missed!