The first GRAMMY Awards ceremony after Sept. 11, 2001, began on a most fitting note with a powerful performance by U2, a band whose relationship with America had only deepened in the wake of the recent tragic events. Bono and company opened the 44th Annual GRAMMY Awards with a characteristically heartfelt version of “Walk On,” a song that despite being written before Sept. 11 somehow spoke to the need to press forward under even the most difficult of circumstances.
Jon Stewart — hosting for the second consecutive year at Staples Center in Los Angeles — pressed forward in his own comedic way with an entrance delayed by an onstage security check that left him standing in only his underwear and socks. “Remember when security was tight because Eminem was going to sing with Elton John?” Stewart quipped, referring to the controversial performance on the previous year’s GRAMMY show. “Those were the days, weren’t they, folks?”
The first award of the night — Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal — was presented by Britney Spears and “Friends” star Matthew Perry, who flirted in a good-natured way with the current teen superstar. “Matthew, this is awkward to say in front of the entire planet and all, but I guess I think of you as a ‘Friend,’” she explained gently. The pair then presented the award to U2 for “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” Bono wryly explained that by winning a few awards, the band would now be allowed back into their native country Ireland, “So this is a public safety issue.” Ultimately, U2 would win four GRAMMYs on this night — including Record Of The Year for “Walk On.”
Another of the evening’s most memorable performances came from the movie Moulin Rouge. With minimal clothing and maximum soul, Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink then brought “Lady Marmalade” to life assisted by the great Patti LaBelle, who performed the original hit version with her group LaBelle in 1974. Stewart responded with one of his sharpest self-deprecating lines of the night: “I come out in my underwear, you don’t know what’s going on. They come out, you give them a standing ovation.” Stewart went on to confess, “I actually lost my virginity to that song — not the original, that version actually, a couple of months ago.” The women were perhaps more excited by the fact that “Lady Marmalade” won the GRAMMY for Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals.
Sept. 11, 2001, had been the planned date of the 2nd Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards and time was taken to acknowledge two of the winners from a telecast that had to be cancelled — Colombian rocker Juanes, along with Spaniard Alejandro Sanz who performed an exuberant “Quisiera Ser” with Destiny’s Child.
Other notable performances included an intense rendition of “No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige, New York homeboys Tony Bennett and Billy Joel dueting on “New York State Of Mind,” and Bob Dylan performing “Cry A While” in what appeared to be a big white box — paradoxically, a pretty out-of-the-box idea. Equally outstanding were performances from two of the night’s most notable winners. Alicia Keys — whose five awards for the evening were Song Of The Year, Best New Artist, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Song and Best R&B Album (Songs In A Minor) — performed “Fallin’” flamenco-style. And the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack was brought to life onstage with the help of an ensemble of bluegrass greats including the legendary Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch and, of course, the Soggy Bottom Boys themselves. Indeed, after a huge crowd appeared onstage after the O Brother soundtrack won Album Of The Year, Stewart told the crowd, “I want to point out you get to come up if you worked on the album, not just if you heard it.”
It was not all laughs — when country great Alan Jackson performed “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” in front of children’s art created in reaction to Sept. 11, it was in the end an emotional but ultimately heartening reminder that the world had now begun turning again, even if it would never be the same.