In a Grammy ceremony tinged with sadness and mourning for Whitney Houston, Jennifer Hudson delivered an elegant and simple tribute to the late singer, performing “I Will Always Love You” before a silent but appreciative crowd.

View Photo Gallery: The Recording Academy celebrated some of music’s biggest names at the 54th annual Grammy Awards.

Though there was no time to prepare the type of performance that Houston’s legacy demanded, the rendition of the hit song, which Houston made famous in “The Bodyguard,” was a poignant tribute. Though Hudson appeared nervous, her performance was almost universally praised.

Hudson’s performance came after a montage of departed musicians, ending with Houston. She stood in silhouette below an image of Houston and ended the song with the ad-lib, “Whitney, we love you.” Looking emotional, she exited quickly after the song was over. There were reports that Hudson broke down sobbing in rehearsals for what will surely be one of the most memorable performances of her lifetime, but she was able to remain composed throughout the performance.

Hudson has long been compared to Houston. Earlier in the evening, on the red carpet, host L.L. Cool J said of Hudson: “She is obviously a different singer, different diva, but she’s the closest thing we have now to Whitney.”

View Photo Gallery: Whitney Houston, who reigned as pop music’s queen until her majestic voice and regal image were tainted by drug use, erratic behavior and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, has died.

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