Hours before The Grammys on Sunday, Alicia Keys received word — like the rest of the world — that NBA legend Kobe Bryant had died suddenly in a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
Alicia told Ellen DeGeneres, who commended the singer on a job exceptionally well done, that she and the show’s producers scrambled to put together a tribute to Kobe that felt both authentic and appropriate, all while trying to process the devastating loss.
“We were all freaking out because obviously hearing the news about Kobe and his daughter was so tragic, and none of us can still believe it right now to this day,” Keys said on Ellen’s show on Wednesday, adding that they were making changes “literally minutes before” the show kicked off.
“We had to really figure out, how could we properly honor him in his house on this night?” she added of the Staples Center venue, home to the Los Angeles Lakers. “And everybody who adores him and loves him so much and has been inspired by him felt so devastated in that moment. We couldn’t… We had to properly do that.”
In addition to the logistical changes the crew had to make, Keys also had to make some mental changes. Gone were the nerves associated with simply hosting the event; the singer now felt the need to do the late basketball star the justice she felt he deserved.
So she “put on my meditation music” and “called some of my closest people that help me really find the truth in the moment,” she explained, adding that her performance of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” with Boyz II Men was also a last-minute decision.
“It just so happened Boyz II Men was there already that night, and we wanted to do something special, create just something that felt like it was the right,” Alicia told Ellen. “And we pulled it together, and it was just beautiful. It was like that magic that happens when it’s necessary. So like whoa. WHOA. Whoa. It was so much, but I was very honored to be able to share that moment with all of us, with the entire world, that we together could go through something that hurts so bad together. And I feel really honored to have been able to be there with you in that time.”
Check out the clip below.