By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Whitney Houston was given a final sendoff by the Grammys on Thursday as Halle Berry, Britney Spears, Jennifer Hudson, Usher and other stars shared their memories and performed in homage to the late singer.
Academy-award winner Berry made a tearful introduction at the "We Will Always Love You: A Grammy Salute to Whitney Houston" special, and praised the "unforgettable" performer.
"She inspired a generation of little girls and women to believe in their own dream and to know that they had within themselves the greatest gift of all. I was one of those little girls who then became a woman who never ever, ever, stopped loving Whitney Houston," Berry said.
The event was attended by Houston's daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, who was joined by boyfriend Nick Gordon and sister-in-law Pat Houston.
Noticeably absent was Houston's mother, Cissy, and her brother Gary. Record label executive Clive Davis, who discovered the late singer, sat alongside the family in the front row.
The tribute comes towards the end of a year in which the music world was rocked by Houston's sudden death at age 48 in February. She was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel bathtub on the night before the Grammy awards, from what authorities said was accidental drowning brought on by cocaine use and heart disease.
A homage to Houston was quickly put together at the Grammy awards in February with Jennifer Hudson singing a heart-felt rendition of "I Will Always Love You" on a stage lit by a single spotlight. Later in May, R&B star Jordin Sparks, who co-starred with Houston in the late singer's final movie "Sparkle," sang the same song at the Billboard Music Awards in tribute.
There was no mention of Houston's turbulent personal life and history of drug abuse on Thursday as the Grammy organizers decided to focus on the late singer's career achievements and best-known performances, including her rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" at the 1991 Superbowl.
Hudson on Thursday channeled Houston's style from the 1980s with big hair and a glittering blazer, performing more uptempo numbers with a medley of "I'm Every Woman," "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody".
R&B star Usher sang "I Believe In You And Me" and gospel singers Cece Winans and Yolanda Adams delivered a rousing performance of "Count On Me," which had Houston's family in tears.
Canadian singer Celine Dion was on the bill to perform on the night but was unable to make it, taping her rendition of "The Greatest Love Of All" in Canada to air during the televised special.
The event organizers decided to leave Houston's best-known song, "I Will Always Love You," to the late singer, showing a tape of her singing at the 1994 Grammy awards.
Presenters at the event shared their memories. Pop star and "X Factor" judge Spears said her version of Houston's "I Have Nothing" scored her a deal with a record label and started her career.
The audience were also treated to exclusive interviews from the early days of Houston's career, showing her talking about fame, philosophy and religion.
The one-hour CBS special will be aired on November 16.
(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy, editing by Elaine Lies and Andrew Heavens)