The organisers of the Grammy awards scrambled to recast the annual ceremony as a tribute to Whitney Houston, whose death plunged the music world into mourning on the eve of its most star-spangled night.
As the show got under way last night, co-host Dave Koz acknowledged the tragedy, noting the "great legacy of Miss Whitney Houston. She's in our hearts and our minds".
Jennifer Hudson, who was presented with her first Grammy by Houston in 2009, was set to perform a tribute at the refashioned ceremony.
The tragedy cast a particular pall because Houston, who had won six gongs at the event over her career, had been attending pre-Grammy celebrations when she died in as-yet-unexplained circumstances in a Beverly Hills hotel – just a few hours before a gala hosted by Clive Davis, the mogul who gave her her first recording contract.
Los Angeles police said they would release more details today. A member of her entourage found the singer and alerted security at the hotel but paramedics, who were already on site for Davis' gala, failed to revive her. She was pronounced dead at 3.55pm local time on Saturday.
Some reports suggested she had been found submerged in the bath, and that prescription pills were found in the hotel suite. The celebrity news site TMZ.com reported that family members said Houston had been taking Xanax for anxiety.
The singer's "devastated" family released a statement saying: "This is an unimaginable tragedy and we will miss her terribly. We appreciate the outpouring of love and support from her fans and friends." The shock was so great for her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Houston, that the 18-year-old had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance, suffering from stress, although she was later discharged.
Mr Davis's party turned into an impromptu wake. Houston had been one of the biggest stars expected to attend. R&B stars Brandy and Monica did not perform as they were grief-stricken. They had prepared for their duet with help from Houston, when observers said she had appeared dishevelled and had smelt of drink and cigarettes at the rehearsals. Others, though, said she had appeared happy.