Whitney Houston: The 5 Best Tribute Performances, A Year After Her Death

Caila Ball-Dionne | February 11, 2013 9:43 am

It’s been a year since music legend Whitney Houston died at the age of 48. In the time following her February 11, 2012 passing, performers spanning generations and genres have paid tribute to the esteemed singer.

In fact, there wasn’t a proper music event in 2012 that didn’t seize the opportunity to memorialize Houston through performance. From the legendary peers that worked alongside Whitney from the start, to the new crop of singers inspired by the iconic diva, it was quite a collection that took to the stage to pay their respects. The early tributes, appropriately, reflected the sadness of a life lost too soon. As the year went on, however, these performances evolved to a celebration of The Voice’s energy and charismatic stage presence.

Starting with Jennifer Hudson’s somber performance of “I Will Always Love You” during last year’s Grammys, and moving toward an eventual spirited celebration of Houston’s more upbeat hits, we’ve rounded up our five favorite tributes to the singer. (And spoiler alert: Glee’s Whitney Houston-themed episode didn’t make the cut. At all.)

Jennifer Hudson at the 2012 Grammys

During the 2012 Grammys, which took place just one day after Whitney Houston’s death, the music industry was still reeling with grief. As host LL Cool J put it when he started the show with a prayer for her, “We’ve had a death in our family.” The pressure was on, then, for Jennifer Hudson, who would perform Whitney’s biggest hit, “I Will Always Love You.” Despite reports that she broke down during rehearsals earlier that day, Hudson delivered a flawless performance, which was at once simple, emotional and — above all — all about Whitney. Over deafening applause, she ended it with “Whitney, we love you.”

Cissy Houston at the 2012 BET Awards

June 2012’s BET awards featured a powerful and unexpected performance from Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother. The Grammy Award-winning gospel singer — and former back up to the likes of Elvis and Aretha Franklin — closed out a medley of tribute performances by Chaka Khan, Monica and Brandy. Her take on the gospel classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was an exhibit of strength from a grieving mother, who clutched a tissue the entire time. Cissy’s performance earned tears from attendees, including Beyonce, and — even more shocking —almost-tears from the typically stone-faced Kanye West.

John Legend at the 2012 Billboard Music Awards

During the May 2012 Billboard Music Awards, it was crooner John Legend’s turn to pay his respects to Houston. The nine-time Grammy winner, who referred to Houston as “one of the greatest,” was at the piano for his performance of “The Greatest Love of All.” With an orchestra backing him up, and a slide show of Whitney Houston throughout the years behind him, Legend delivered the goods.

Following Legend’s performance, Jordin Sparks — Houston’s Sparkle co-star — performed “I Will Always Love You.” We give her credit for a performance well done, but in tribute terms, it didn’t quite reach the level of Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of the same tune.

Celine Dion at We Will Always Love You: A Grammy Salute To Whitney Houston

Although it can be said that the greatest love of all for Celine Dion might just be herself, she kept it all about her friend Whitney during her tribute performance. The five-time Grammy winner performed “The Greatest Love of All” during We Will Always Love You: A Grammy Salute To Whitney Houston. Before her performance for the CBS special last November, Dion started with the disclaimer, “I can’t sing it like you, Whitney.” While that statement coming from Celine Dione alone was mind-blowing, the vocal chops displayed by the vocal powerhouse certainly reached the bar that, as she put it, Houston set so high.

The special also included a performance by Usher, and a super-fun medley of Whitney Houston’s dance classics by Jennifer Hudson.

Jordin Sparks, Melanie Fiona and Ledisi at VH1 Divas

It is only appropriate that the grand diva was honored during a celebration of divas. During the VH1 Divas December show, the next generation of vocal powerhouses was in full celebration mode, in honor of Whitney Houston. The Voice’s Sparkle co-star, Jordin Sparks, along with Melanie Fiona and Ledisi, paid tribute to her with an upbeat dance medley featuring some of our shut-the-door-and-blast-it-because-it’s-time-to-dance favorites.

Sparks kicked off the performance with “I’m Every Woman” in front of a glittering WHITNEY backdrop. Melanie Fiona then chimed in with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “It’s Not Right, But It’s Ok.” The performance was capped off with Ledisi singing “How Will I Know,” donning a glowing smile throughout. Our only complaint here is that we just wanted a little more “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” but, with the help of Spotify, we’ll get through it.

What was your own favorite Whitney Houston tribute from the past year? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below!