'If I talk too long, I'll cry': Whitney Houston's mom gets emotional during Rock Hall induction

Patrick Ryan

Even without a formal ceremony, this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions still deliver some waterworks. 

As coronavirus cases continue to surge throughout the U.S., music's most exclusive club was forced to replace its live event with a virtual celebration. "The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2020 Inductions," premiered on HBO and HBO Max on Nov. 7.  Available to stream, the two-hour special pays tribute to the eclectic Class of 2020, which includes Whitney Houston, Notorious B.I.G., Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, T. Rex and the Doobie Brothers

The earnest but uninventive special suffers from a lack of electrifying performances that have defined past ceremonies, with rousing crowd favorites and inspired team-ups between inductees and newer artists. But the virtual format also means that more A-listers could tape salutes to this year's class, with Charlize Theron feting Depeche Mode, Ringo Starr honoring T. Rex, and Miley Cyrus and Iggy Pop venerating Nine Inch Nails. 

Doobie Brothers on Rock Hall:'I didn't think I'd be around to enjoy it'

The Notorious B.I.G., left, and Whitney Houston are two of the music icons being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this month in a virtual "ceremony."

The most heartfelt tributes come from the families of two late inductees: Houston, who died in 2012 at age 48 from accidental drowning attributed to heart disease and cocaine use; and Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G., who was shot and killed in 1997 at age 24. 

Houston's induction, which closes out the special, is unsurprisingly moving, as Alicia Keys describes her "beautiful friendship" with the incomparable singer, calling her "the greatest voice of all time." It's impossible to not tear up watching clips of Houston performing and cradling her now-late daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, before her family gives a speech on her behalf. 

Cissy Houston, left, and daughter Whitney Houston in 2010.

"I'm so very, very proud that Whitney is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," mom Cissy Houston, 87, says. "She wanted to be something – not anything. She worked hard at it, too." 

"This is something Whitney always wanted," manager and sister-in-law Pat Houston says. "I remember in 2009, we were in London. Whitney looked at me and she said, 'This is really special, but there's only one thing missing: I've got to get the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.' This moment right now proves it all: There's only one matchless Whitney Houston, and tonight, she would be very proud and honored to receive this award." 

"I'm proud of who she was," Cissy Houston adds. "What can I say now? If I talk too long, I'll cry. I don't want to cry." 

Notorious B.I.G. at the Billboard Music Awards in 1995.

Earlier in the special, Wallace's two adult children – T'yanna, 27, and C.J., 24 – accept the award for their late dad, a Brooklyn rapper and hip-hop trailblazer best known for '90s hits "Mo Money Mo Problems" and "Big Poppa." 

"When my dad passed away, I was only 3 years old," T'yanna says. "Even though I didn't get to know him as well as I wanted, through his fans and our family, I was able to see with my own eyes that his music transcended the hip-hop industry. He was able to become not only the 'King of New York,' but the king of the culture." 

"Our father was one of the founding fathers of hip hop," C.J. says. "He helped revolutionize what was a young artform for the Black community and the world. I'm honored to share his name and his dedication to Black music, creativity, self-expression and Black freedom." 

"They say time heals all wounds. I kind of wait for that day," adds rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs, Biggie's friend and collaborator. "But I also think time doesn't heal some wounds. Some you have to live with."

Foo Fighters opening, Eddie Van Halen remembrance and other induction highlights 

Dave Grohl opened the special with an inspiring message about rock's history of "rebellion and unity." “This rock ‘n’ roll family of ours, like so many others, unfortunately can’t gather together in person to induct the Hall of Fame class of 2020," the Foo Fighters frontman said. "Still, we honor this year’s inductees by telling their inspiring stories and showing how powerfully they affected us all.”

Miley Cyrus, who put a pop spin on Nine Inch Nails' "Head Like a Hole" for an episode of last year's "Black Mirror" Season 5, paid tribute to the band's founder, Trent Reznor. Listening to their songs, "you feel a sense of, 'I'm not alone, because someone else has felt this way,' " Cyrus said. "Their music kind of erases loneliness." Reznor, in turn, said, "It's surprising and it's flattering to hear when you influence pop stuff. But I don't spend much time thinking about it."

Oscar winner Charlize Theron inducted Depeche Mode, whose biggest influence came in the 1980s when their post-punk, synthesizer-dominated music made the Brits a favorite of the goth subculture. Theron thanked the band “for being the soundtrack of my life.”

T. Rex and the Doobie Brothers were inducted after being on the ballot for the first time (as were Houston, B.I.G.). The Doobie Brothers’ inclusion makes 2020 historic for the band — it’s also their 50th anniversary. "I was wondering why it took so long for them to nominate us, and then to actually be inducted the first time around was pretty random," singer, guitarist and co-founder Patrick Simmons told USA TODAY, with a laugh. "I thought it'd happen (eventually), but I didn't think I'd be around to enjoy it." 

The group known for hits like “Listen to the Music” and “Black Water” were supposed to celebrate this year with a tour featuring singer-songwriter Michael McDonald — who sang with the band starting in 1975 before beginning his own solo career — but it was postponed because of the pandemic.

Guitar icon Eddie Van Halen, who died from cancer last month, was feted by Slash of Guns N' Roses, who called him "tremendously gifted" and "completely unique." Other artists honored in the "in memoriam" segment included Little Richard, John Prine, Ennio Morricone and Adam Schlesinger

Contributing: Associated Press