Beyonce was "deeply emotional" during the Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant Celebration of Life memorial at the Staples Center on Monday, just as many in the audience were. The singer performed "Halo" and "XO" at the event, which was overseen by veteran Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich, just a month after he produced his final Grammy ceremony. Ehrlich spilled the details on putting the memorial together in an interview with Variety Thursday, but he gave all the credit for the memorial to Bryant's widow, Vanessa Bryant.
While some might have thought the memorial would close with Beyonce, she was surprisingly the first to perform. Ehrlich said Beyonce ended up performing first simply due to technicalities, as she wanted to perform with a choir and strings, while Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys gave stripped-down performances. The producer said it all worked out for the best because Beyonce helped set the tone for Vanessa's speech.
"When you think about it, the way that the program played out with the speakers, Beyonce set the tone for Vanessa Bryant," Ehlrich explained. "Alicia basically then brought the story of the love that they had for each other back, right in the middle of the show. And then the one religious aspect of the show, 'Ave Maria,' was like the closing prayer. So it all fit together. Sometimes it’s just the way the way things lay out. I’d love to say that we were smart enough to figure that out, but the reality is, it was kind of dictated by what we could do in that rather confined space."
Ehrlich said Beyonce was "close" to letting her emotions get the best of her.
"I've seen her in a lot of different circumstances and I’ve watched her grow up, and there's no question she's grown up, and how," he explained. "But she's deeply emotional. She feels things — she always did, whenever we would do something that touched her. I remember one year when we were doing something for Katie Couric's cancer charity in New York, I think, and I asked her to sing 'Somewhere' from West Side Story. And she sang the song and told the story about how her mother used to play that or sing that to her every night before she went to bed. During rehearsal or whatever, she had a tough time getting through it, because she felt it so deeply."
Later in the interview, Ehrlich said Beyonce spelled out how important the memorial was for her during rehearsals.
"Beyonce made it very clear to me when I saw her at the rehearsal Monday morning that this was really important to her because of their relationship with the family," he recalled.
"Halo" was a song many expected Beyonce to perform, but "XO" was a surprise. Before she sang it, Beyonce explained it was one of Bryant's favorite songs. She also tweaked a couple of lines in the song, changing "and I'm crashing into you" to "and I'm laughing into you" and "you kill me, boy, XO" to "just kiss me, boy, XO."
In one of the viral moments from the memorial, Beyonce was seen helping to console Vanessa while Michael Jordan spoke.
Bryant and Gianna died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 with seven other victims. He played his entire 20-year NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Photo credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images