A dark cloud was already hanging over the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards this weekend, due to the fact that the 10 days leading up the awards had been plagued by the scandalous ousting of Record Academy CEO Deborah Dugan. But the focus swiftly shifted to an even more shocking development Sunday, when only hours before the ceremony, news broke that basketball superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, had died in a helicopter crash. The mood outside the site of the Grammys, the Staples Center — home of the Los Angeles Lakers, for whom Bryant played for 20 years — instantly changed, as purple-and-yellow-clad fans mourned outside the famous venue and celebrities walked the red carpet seemingly in a daze.
“Tonight is for Kobe!” this year’s most-nominated artist, Lizzo, declared as she opened Sunday’s telecast with “Cuz I Love You,” setting a respectful but still celebratory tone and bringing entirely new meaning to the line, “I’m crying ‘cuz I love you.” Ceremony host Alicia Keys then took the stage, looking broken-hearted, and more somberly addressed the crowd.
“Here we are, together, on music’s biggest night, celebrating the artists that do it best. But to be honest with you, we’re all feeling crazy sadness right now,” said Keys. “Because earlier today, Los Angeles, America, and the whole wide world lost a hero. And we’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built. Right now, Kobe and his daughter Gianna and all of those that have been tragically lost today are in our spirit, they’re in our hearts, they’re in our prayers. They’re in this building. And I would like to ask everybody to take a moment and just hold them inside of you, and share our strength and our support with their families.
“We never imagined in a million years we would have to start the show like this. Never, never, never, never, never. But we wanted to do something that could describe a teeny bit how we all feel right now.”
Keys was then joined by Boyz II Men for a beautiful, a cappella rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye,” while the all-star crowd watched on in tears. At the end of the number, the camera panned up to Bryant’s illuminated Lakers jerseys displayed on the Staples Center wall.
“I know that we’re going to do what we’re here to do. I know that we’re going to all join together and do what we do in happy times,” declared Keys. “We’re going to sing together, we’re going to laugh together, we’re going to dance together, we’re going to cry together. We’re going to bring it all together. We’re going to love together, and we’re going to make sure that we are celebrating the most powerful energy, the most beautiful thing in the world, the one thing that has the power to bring all of us together, and that’s music. It’s the most healing thing in the world.”