Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby feted MusiCares Person of the Year Aretha Franklin over Grammy weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The vibe was stuffy, and not because of the high-powered guests:. Ms. Franklin always insists on the room being air-conditioning-free, so her 2,500-plus guests had to literally sweat it out. But you can't argue with the Queen of Soul, who grooved along to performances by the Blues Brothers, Robin Thicke, Fantasia and Lil Mama in her seat and especially rocked out to Patti Austin's "Say a Little Prayer for You," during which Austin ad-libbed, "Not too many white people here tonight!"
Franklin -- decked out in a floor-length white fur coat -- told us on the red carpet that it was "absolutely wonderful" "I'm thrilled to be honored by MusiCares" and that the Grammys "mean everything." Every artist wants one and should have one." (She got her first Grammy forty years ago.) Franklin graciously spent time with everyone who came by her table to offer congratulations, including Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Natalie Cole, Clive Davis and many more.
"It took us six days to get here from Detroit," Franklin announced from the stage. "If I ever wanted to fly again, it's now. I know how people in covered wagons felt," she added before performing one of her most famous hits, "Chain of Fools." Organizers confirmed she took a bus from Detroit to L.A. (No, not a public bus. Her own customized tour bus.)
When we caught up with Ne-Yo to quiz him on working with "Umbrella" queen Rihanna, he said, "Rihanna doesn't take direction well. She is really hardheaded. She is a jerk sometimes." Um, what? "I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I love Rihanna. I do," he quickly added. "It was fun. She is like my little sister so we did all the stuff that brothers and sisters do, punching each other in the arm. She put hot sauce in my mouth when I fell asleep and I haven't gotten her back for that. So be looking out for me, little Miss Rihanna. I'm gonna getcha."
Ashlee Simpson's producer Kenna was quick to defend his own young collaborator. "Ashlee is an underdog and that's all that counts," he said. "This album is something that Ashlee created herself and she brought people in she believes in. She has Chad [Hugo] from the Neptunes. She has Timbaland. She has some of the best people in the world working with her and if we choose to work with her then 'll tell you right now there is no reason for anyone to doubt that we don't know she is talented she is capable. I think people should listen to the music. Shut up for a minute."
Dave Stewart showed up blinged out in diamond skull necklaces and rings that sported the phrase, "Rock Fabulous." "I'm going on tour in late August and September as Dave Stewart and the Rock Fabulous Orchestra. I play my songbook with a thirty-piece orchestra," he said. Will they be blinged out too? "Oh, the whole orchestra will be blinged out, yeah. The first ever blinged out orchestra."