Alicia Keys' performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" during the Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant Celebration of Life at the Staples Center on Monday was pre-ordained by Bryant's widow, Vanessa Bryant. It was a surprising performance from the "Girl on Fire" singer, but there was a touching story behind Keys' decision to perform the 219-year-old piece. Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich, who helped make sure the memorial ran smoothly, told Variety Keys' performance was one of many decisions Vanessa made herself.
"That was already ordained [before Ehrlich’s company came on to help with the show]," Ehrlich said of Keys' performance. "When I first talked to Alicia, she said, 'I'm going to do "Moonlight Sonata."' And I thought — to myself! — 'Well, that's kind of a rather strange choice.' And then we found out the story about Kobe, that he had tried to learn it. So I guess that if there’s a lesson to be learned for an old producer, it's don't ever think you know more than the principals do."
Keys performed after Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, who was also Bryant's agent and Gianna's godfather, explained the meaning of "Moonlight Sonata" to the Bryants during his speech.
"Vanessa brought out Kobe's romantic side like nobody else in the world could," Pelinka explained, reports Billboard. "While he was away, he wanted to live in his love for Vanessa so at night under the moonlit sky, he vowed to teach himself by ear to play the first movement of Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata.' When he told me this, I thought, 'There's no way!'... That next morning, Kobe called and played me the first few measures. The next morning, more. By the end of the week, he had the entire piece mastered, and he played it for me over the phone without a mistake."
The memorial began with Beyonce's performance, with Keys' performance in the middle. Christina Aguilera closed the show with "Ave Maria," which was another idea from Vanessa.
"It was because Vanessa Bryant really loves Christina Aguilera and asked if we could get her to come and do something," Ehrlich said of Aguilera's involvement. "And then when we talked it through a little bit, that was what she wanted to do, and everybody was happy with that. Christina is another one: She's incredibly emotional. I mean, all three of the performers have, number one, inner strength, and number two, the ability to bring something from a different place."
Ehrlich added that the crew he had on hand for the memorial usually worked on sports events. He praised their work though, particularly during Keys' performance.
"There's a shot at the end of Alicia's performance where he's on a medium close-up, and she lifts her face heavenward, and you're transcendent," Ehlrich said. "She's transcendent. So [the crews] all felt it. All three of them, when they finished, I went out for, just to make sure everything was okay. And when all three of them finished, you could tell they were in a different place."
Keys also paid tribute to Bryant during the Grammys on Jan. 26, which aired just hours after the helicopter crash that killed Bryant and Gianna. Keys was the host, and mentioned the tragedy in her opening monologue. She also organized a performance of "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" with Boyz II Men at the last minute.
"Here we are together on music's biggest night celebrating the artists that do it best, but to be honest with you, we're all feeling crazy sadness right now because earlier today in Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero," Keys said at the start of the Grammys, which were held at the Staples Center. "We're literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built."
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