Top nominee Lizzo kicked off the 2020 Grammys on Sunday with a tribute to the late basketball legend Kobe Bryant, before launching into a rousing medley of her hits.

"Tonight is for Kobe," shouted the 31-year-old, who has already won two awards in the pre-gala event that led into music's marquee night.

Bryant -- a hero for Los Angeles who played for the Lakers in the Staples Center, where the Grammys are being held -- died in a helicopter crash earlier in the day, along with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter.

After a glittering performance of "Truth Hurts" and "Cuz I Love You" -- which featured ballerinas, orchestrals and the artist's signature flute skills -- Lizzo passed the torch to Grammy host Alicia Keys who offered another moving tribute to Bryant.

"We're all feeling crazy sadness right now. Earlier today, Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero," she said.

"And we're literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built," said Keys, before launching into a soulful rendition of "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye" with the group Boyz II Men.

Top contenders at Sunday's glam gala include Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X.

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Alicia Keys pays tribute to Kobe Byrant
Host US singer-songwriter Alicia Keys and Boyz II Men sing in memory of late NBA legend Kobe Bryant at the start of the Grammys. AFP / Robyn Beck