After host LL Cool J opened Sunday’s ceremony with a prayer for Houston, announcing “a death in our family,” the audience rose in a standing ovation.
“When a truly great artist leaves us, their legacy lives on,” Alicia Keys later told the stars gathered at Los Angeles’s Staples Center, before joining Bonnie Raitt in a graceful cover of James’s “A Sunday Kind of Love.”
But the most moving tribute came from Jennifer Hudson, whose elegant but understated rendition of Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” brought audience members to their feet once again.
On the red carpet prior to the show, stars such as Tony Bennett and Kelly Price paid their respects to Houston, who died Saturday.
British pop star Jessie J recalled meeting the legend’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who was recently released from the hospital after having a “complete breakdown,” at a rehearsal for Clive Davis’s pre-Grammy Bash.
“She’s the reason I started to sing,” Jessie J told E!. “I feel very honored that I was alive with her music, and I got to look up to her as an artist.”
Price recalled taking the stage with Houston Thursday night – her last performance ever.
“Singing with Whitney has always been, to me, just an honor,” she said. When her manager told her Houston died, “I was praying it was an Internet hoax.”
Even Beyoncé, who was not in attendance at the Grammys, shared her grief over Houston’s death.
“I remember meeting Whitney for the first time when I was 15. She was the ultimate legend. The ultimate woman,” she told PEOPLE in a statement. “Not only was she confident, poised, stunningly beautiful and intelligent, but she was sincere and kind.”
She added: “I, like every singer, always wanted to be just like her.”