Jennifer Hudson Grammys
Credit: John Shearer/

When the news broke that pop legend Whitney Houston had passed away on Saturday, the producers of the Grammy Awards were suddenly put in an almost untenable position. They absolutely had to pay tribute to the late icon, but there was nowhere near enough time to put together the sort of salute that Houston’s legacy demands.

Ultimately, they came up with a simple and elegant solution, sending out Jennifer Hudson to take the stage (video below) for a run through “I Will Always Love You,” the Dolly Parton song that Houston made into a worldwide smash on the soundtrack to The Bodyguard. Clearly moved by the enormity of her charge, Hudson nevertheless used her amazing instrument to bob and weave with impressive execution, turning in a performance that Houston herself would have been proud of.

Following an In Memoriam montage that saw tips of the hat to late icons like Amy Winehouse, Clarence Clemons, and Phoebe Snow, Hudson appeared bathed in light to start “I Will Always Love You” a cappella. Later joined by nothing more than a piano, Hudson’s huge voice was up to the enormous task of taking on one of the biggest songs in the entire balladeer songbook.

Though she skipped the huge note at the end of the song that became a calling card for Houston, she did ad lib “Whitney, we love you” as she closed out her performance.

The two singers had been linked a handful of times before Houston’s passing. At her last Grammys appearance in 2009, Houston presented Hudson with the prize for Best R&B Album, and Hudson later paid tribute to Houston at a BET Honors show in 2010, which celebrated her 25 years as an entertainer.

Hudson’s performance was the largest in a string of nods to Houston’s memory, as host LL Cool J opened the show with a solemn prayer and a video of her classic performance of “I Will Always Love You,” which elicited a standing ovation. Later, she received shout-outs from Rihanna, Alicia Keys, and Stevie Wonder.