"We've had a death in our family," LL Cool J told the audience at the start of Sunday night's ceremony. "So, at least for me, the only thing that feels right is to begin with a prayer for a woman who we loved, for our fallen sister -- Whitney Houston."
He then thanked God for "sharing our sister Whitney with us," and added, "although she is gone too soon, we remain truly blessed to have been touched by her beautiful spirit and to have her lasting legacy of music to cherish and share forever. Amen."
The emcee introduced a video clip of Houston bringing down the house as she sang her signature song "I Will Always Love You" at a previous Grammys show. The crowd rose to their feet out of respect, as LL Cool J said, "Whitney, we will always love you."
Recording star Jennifer Hudson later performed her own soaring rendition of the song.
Hudson is a Grammy Award-winning recording artist and Oscar-winning star of the movie musical "Dreamgirls." Houston presented Hudson with the Grammy for Best R&B Album in 2009.
Houston died at the Beverly Hilton hotel at the age of 48 after a long battle with substance abuse.
The cause of her death is under investigation.