You could say that the 45th Annual GRAMMY Awards was the first show without a single official host, but in truth the host of the show was no less a shining star than New York City itself. At the end of a frigid and snowbound winter week, a galaxy of musical stars gathered inside the Big Apple’s famed Madison Square Garden to heat things up on an evening that marked the return of Music’s Biggest Night to Manhattan for the first time since the tragic events of Sept. 11. Fittingly, this emotional event would prove an altogether moving musical homecoming, and arguably the city’s first major positive event since the terrorist attacks.
This GRAMMY show began with a post-Graduate Dustin Hoffman introducing the first public performance of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in a decade. The legendary duo broke their long and sometimes tense silence by performing a stunningly lovely acoustic version of their first hit, “The Sound Of Silence,” standing side-by-side on a tiny circular stage. Simon & Garfunkel’s moving reunion — later to be continued with a massively successful tour — had its roots in the pair being presented with The Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award. This honor began a conversation that gradually became reconciliation — a particularly meaningful one in the wake of recent events.
These two sons of New York City weren’t the only local heroes taking the stage at Madison Square Garden this special night — an impressive procession of great New Yorkers and lovers of the city from around the world joined them. For example, it was New York’s own Tony Bennett and Joe Pantoliano who introduced the subtle, jazzy performance of “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones, the woman who would own much of this notable GRAMMY night. “I want to tell you something about this lady,” Bennett told the crowd. “She is phenomenal — she is gonna be around a long time.” By the end of the night, Jones would earn five GRAMMYs, tying Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill for the most wins in a year ever by a female artist (Beyoncé would join this elite group the following year), while Jones’ debut album, Come Away With Me, would earn an astounding overall total of eight awards this night.
Yet, on a night when one new musical star dominated the major awards so thoroughly, there was no shortage of stellar performances. Rookie Vanessa Carlton and Best New Artist nominee John Mayer formed a sort of singer/songwriters’ circle with an artist who Mayer rightly introduced as “the blueprint”: James Taylor, who teamed with renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma for a characteristically elegant rendition of “Sweet Baby James.” Later, members of the New York Philharmonic, under the baton of David Robertson, performed an inspired version of Leonard Bernstein’s “The Dance At The Gym (Mambo)” from West Side Story, and then joined with Coldplay for a rousing rendition of “Politik” (with the late Michael Kamen conducting). This bold and beautiful collaboration brought together — as John Leguizamo promised in his introduction — “two distinguished groups separated by a body of water but united by a shared passion for the endless possibilities of music.”
Two of the emotional highlights of the night came with the help of a rock legend not from New York, but just across the Hudson in the Garden State. First, Bruce Springsteen — who won three awards during the night — and the E-Street Band performed “The Rising,” his acclaimed response to the trauma of Sept. 11. Soon after, Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, Elvis Costello and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters — backed by No Doubt’s Tony Kanal on bass and Costello cohort Pete Thomas on drums — brought the GRAMMY’s first ever “In Memoriam” tribute to a blistering conclusion, playing the Clash’s apocalyptic punk anthem “London Calling” in honor of the group’s Joe Strummer, who had died just two months earlier.
Throughout this eclectic and emotional evening, respects were paid in varied ways. Accepting the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album (for The Eminem Show), Eminem took the opportunity to properly thank a long list of rap icons who had influenced him, including Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, and Notorious B.I.G. Even more poignant was the presentation of a GRAMMY Legend Award to the Bee Gees, whose Maurice Gibb had died suddenly on Jan. 12, and which Ed Bradley proclaimed was offered “in recognition of a lifetime of the best sort of harmony.” The two surviving Brothers Gibb accepted their awards, joined by Maurice’s son Adam who accepted his father’s award with great dignity. “I know how much my dad loved doing what he did,” he explained, “and he would have loved being here right now. I know he’d want to thank one person and that’s my mom, because she was his rock.”
In the end, this moving night of music in New York City proved a fitting occasion for old friends to reunite and one to enjoy a true GRAMMY night to remember.