Beyoncé, backed by a choir, kicked off the Kobe Bryant memorial at Staples Center on Monday, capping a friendship that had lasted for decades. But she stopped singing almost immediately and invited the audience to join her in song.
“I’m here because I love Kobe. And this was one of his favorite songs,” Beyoncé said as she introduced a spectral rendition of “XO,” from her 2013 self-titled album.
“In the darkest night hour (in the darkest night hour) / I’ll search through the crowd (I’ll search through the crowd) / Your face is all that I see,” she sang, surrounded by string players and a small choir all clad in white, before transitioning to “Halo,” a tearjerker from 2008’s “I Am ... Sasha Fierce.”
The singer and her husband, rapper Jay-Z, were longtime friends of Kobe and Vanessa Bryant, and the #GirlDad had taken his daughters to see Beyoncé in concert. The basketball star and his middle daughter, Gianna, died Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash.
“He was last in my house on New Year’s and he was just in the greatest space that I’ve seen him in,” Jay-Z said in early February at Columbia University. “One of the last things he said to me was, ‘You gotta see Gianna play basketball.’ And that was one of the most hurtful things because he was so proud.”
Bryant was “just a great human being that was in a great space in his life,” Jay-Z added (via ET).
The Lakers star had a cameo in the “Bug a Boo” video for Destiny’s Child when he was only a few years into his NBA career.
“I had known Beyoncé and Kelly [Rowland] for a long time,” Bryant told Fox Sports in 2019, explaining how he came to be in a one-on-one game against papa Mathew Knowles on the set of that 1999 video shoot. “Our careers were kind of parallel tracking. I was just starting to try to come into my own, they were doing the same thing. We were kind of ascending at the same time.”
After Bryant’s death, Mathew Knowles — who lost the one-on-one game, by the way — told a story on the Dominick Nati Show (via Meaww) about the athlete asking him for a single front-row seat to see his daughter in concert.
“‘I wanted to watch greatness because I know I would learn from it,’” he quoted Bryant as saying. “That’s the kind of person he was. He came alone because he wanted to lock in and focus.”
Beyoncé herself remembered Bryant after his death with posts on Instagram that included throwback shots of him and Gianna.
“I will continue to diligently pray for your Queens. You are deeply missed beloved Kobe,” the singer wrote on a post featuring the father and daughter together.