Grammys go crazy for Prince: Tribute with Bruno Mars and the Time took months of planning

Bruno Mars performs a tribute to Prince at the 59th annual Grammy Awards.
Gallery: Bruno Mars performs a tribute to Prince at the 59th annual Grammy Awards.

LOS ANGELES – Bruno Mars couldn’t decide which song to perform for Sunday’s Grammy Awards tribute to Prince.

“He agonized over this for two weeks,” Grammy Awards executive producer Ken Ehrlich told the Star Tribune.

“’When Doves Cry,’ ’1999,’ ‘I Would Die 4 U,’ ‘Kiss’ – I said some of those songs shouldn’t be done by anyone but Prince,” Ehrlich continued.

Mars settled on “Let’s Go Crazy” from “Purple Rain.” But the tribute wasn’t limited to Mars going crazy with his band; it started with the Time, the hit-making Minneapolis band Prince put together around singer Morris Day in 1981, doing an abbreviated medley of two of their hits.

Playback isn’t supported on this device.

Grammys host James Corden set the table by describing First Avenue in 1985 under a purple sky. The Time whipped through “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” with Grammy-goers dancing the same steps Day was doing onstage.

Then Prince’s voice was heard talking the intro to “Let’s Go Crazy” while his symbol was featured on the screen. Mars, resplendent in a purple sequined jacket and ruffled shirt, commanded the stage on vocals and guitar.

“Bruno ripped it up,” Day said backstage afterward. “I don’t think there’s another artist who could pull it off as perfectly with us.”

Interjected Time keyboardist Jimmy Jam: “We still kicked his ass.”

There was no question that the Grammys were going to honor Prince on Sunday. There were months of planning, complicated by the uncertainty of Prince’s estate and just how to salute Prince on music’s biggest night.

After Prince died on April 21, Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow began plotting. He considered a full-on all-star TV special, like the ones the Grammys have been taping a day or two after the awards the last few years honoring Stevie Wonder, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra. On Tuesday, the Grammys will record a salute to the Bee Gees featuring Keith Urban, Demi Lovato, John Legend and others.

Portnow soon realized that Prince’s affairs were not in order and dealing with his estate would not be easy. So he refocused his sights on a tribute segment on the Grammy Awards. In December, he consulted with producer Jam, a longtime member of the Grammys TV committee and an ex-Prince associate.

“I gave Neil a broad stroke answer and said I think it needs to include people who were associated with Prince. Whether it was the Revolution, New Power Generation or whoever,” Jam, a keyboardist in the original Time, told the Star Tribune before Sunday’s ceremonies.

Since it’s become a hallmark to create so-called “Grammy moments” by pairing stars from different generations onstage, Jam offered one contemporary name – Bruno Mars.

Was he the only person…