Sometimes a first performance can lead to a Second Coming.
Opening the 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards with the help of Beyoncé, the artist now currently known as Prince again proved himself to be a once and future musical royalty. Dressed in — what else? — purple, Prince teamed up with the recently solo Beyoncé for an inspired run through of three songs from Purple Rain, which 20 years after their release retained their power to thrill with soul and style. The medley of “Purple Rain,” “Baby, I’m A Star” and “Let’s Go Crazy” — weaving in a taste of Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” — featured actual pyrotechnics at the end, but there were musical fireworks right from the start. Things worked out pretty nicely for Destiny’s most famous child as well since Beyoncé became a big winner, later giving a stunningly artistic performance of “Dangerously In Love” and ultimately taking home five GRAMMYs for the night.
Ellen DeGeneres — one of many notable presenters during this host-less show — set the stage for a performance inspired by a significant musical anniversary. “On this night 40 years ago, the Beatles walked on the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater and started a cultural revolution,” said DeGeneres of the Fab Four’s famed “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance. To honor the Beatle’s singular legacy, Sting, Dave Matthews, Pharrell Williams and Vince Gill came together to perform “I Saw Her Standing There.” Later, DeGeneres returned to honor the group with The Academy’s President’s Merit Award and introduce George Harrison’s widow Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono, as well as taped comments from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
It wasn’t, however, all peace, love and sweet nostalgia at the 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards. The show took place just a week after Janet Jackson’s controversial Super Bowl half-time appearance, and that “wardrobe malfunction” controversy ran over into the GRAMMYs. In the end, Jackson — booked to introduce the show’s Luther Vandross salute by Alicia Keys and Celine Dion — chose not to appear. Her Super Bowl partner Justin Timberlake did appear — performing a rousing version of his “Señorita” with jazz great Arturo Sandoval, joining the Black Eyed Peas for “Where Is The Love” and winning two awards: Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. There was some further controversy when new rap icon 50 Cent seemed to protest his loss to Evanescence in the Best New Artist category by walking onto the stage anyway as they accepted their award.
President Neil Portnow — who had forcefully led The Academy through some tense moments with the network following the Super Bowl controversy — addressed the need for increased arts funding and spoke of the state of the music industry in his comments. Introducing The Academy’s new What’s The Download legal downloading public service initiative, Portnow proclaimed, “Our industry will emerge from what has been a perfect storm and we will reinvent and renew that which requires change.”
Among the most perfect performances of the night were Best Rock Album winners the Foo Fighters and jazz keyboardist Chick Corea performing the band’s “Times Like These” with some gorgeous jazzy textures, the White Stripes’ whipping up “Seven Nation Army” from the Best Alternative Music Album Elephant, and a performance that featured Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam and Billy Bob Thornton in a touching farewell that capped the in memoriam segment to the late great Warren Zevon, who had passed away in September shortly after the release of his final album, The Wind, which took home two GRAMMYs. Then there was the taped message from an ailing Luther Vandross who found the strength to send out a little “Power Of Love” as only he could on a night that brought him four GRAMMYs including Song Of The Year for “Dance With My Father,” which he wrote with Richard Marx.
But on this night, no single performance could compare to one of the GRAMMY’s most ambitious and, yes, funky musical endeavors ever: an extraordinary salute to funk officiated by “Minister Samuel L.” Jackson and featuring Earth, Wind & Fire, OutKast (three-time winners of the night), Robert Randolph And The Family Band and George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic. Along with OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below becoming the first rap album to ever win Album Of The Year at the end of the night, this rousing funk medley offered proof that we can still be one nation — even perhaps one world — under a groove.