Plus: Alicia Keyes, Timbaland, Smokey Robinson pay tribute at an ASCAP ceremony

By Scott Huver and Kristen Mascia
Updated June 27, 2009 12:30 PM
Evan Agostini/PictureGroup; Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty

Still reeling two days after Michael Jackson’s death, the music industry’s biggest names are paying tribute to the King of Pop.

“The reason I am here is due to Michael Jackson,” Beyoncé told the Friday night crowd at Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center before her concert, where she sang Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It”.

In Beverly Hills, the 22nd Annual ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Awards – honoring songwriting achievements in the R&B, soul, rap, hip-hop and gospel genres – became a total memorial to Jackson, as the audience observed a moment of silence and presenters and award-winners alike extolled Jackson’s unparalleled influence on the industry.

Winner Alicia Keys thanked Jackson for breaking “all the rules” and “inspir[ing] us all to hopefully break the rules, because we have to break the rules in order to reap the benefits.”

Timbaland, who was set to work with Jackson on what was to have been his upcoming tour, spoke of feeling “down” about missing the chance to collaborate with the pop legend, but uplifted in knowing that “his music lives on.”

Bittersweet Memories

But it was Motown founder Berry Gordy who offered the night’s most touching tribute as he recalled how he spent the first surreal hours after learning of Jackson’s death.

“At home last night, I was looking at some of my old pictures with him, from the early rehearsals to ones with he and my son on the baseball field as we played our weekly Gordy-Jackson baseball games,” he said. “For the world, Michael’s legacy will always be his music and his artistry. But for me it will be so much more. The memories of watching of watching him grow from a mere 9-year-old kid with boundless determination and talent to become perhaps the greatest entertainer of all time – it is a bittersweet moment.”

Before the show, artists – and ASCAP honoree, R&B legend Smokey Robinson – shared their fondest memories of Jackson with PEOPLE:

Alicia Keys: “I did meet him one time, and it was amazing. “He was just an awesome dad, great with his kids. His kids were so smart and attentive. They were there in the conversation as well. We had a great time. We threw around paper airplanes his son was making – like these really cool ones that were just brilliant. It was just beautiful to meet him. I’m glad I got the chance.”

Wyclef Jean: “He came to see me at the studio and he spent a whole hour with me,” Wyclef Jean said. “We talked Haiti, we talked about Jamaica and we talked about music, and that was one of the greatest times ever in my life”

Smokey Robinson: “He was 10 years old, and he had just come to Motown, and [Motown artist and Jackson 5 mentor] Bobby Taylor and I used to take Michael to the golf course with us. He would ride around in the cart with us and critique our golf game, and when we’d hit a bad shot, he’d laugh. I was absolutely flabbergasted when I saw how talented he was when he was 10 years old. He was 10, but he was 30! He sang like he was 30, he danced like he was 30. He was awesome.”
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