The 47th Annual GRAMMY Awards featured a Queen as host, but in the end it was a late great Genius who dominated the proceedings as Ray Charles’ posthumous duets album, Genius Loves Company, won a grand total of eight awards.
The night at Staples Center in Los Angeles began with its very own live GRAMMY mash-up — a massive group effort that started, logically enough, with the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started,” and went on to feature Gwen Stefani with Eve performing “Rich Girl,” Los Lonely Boys singing “Heaven,” Franz Ferdinand playing “Take Me Out” and Maroon 5 (who later won Best New Artist) performing “This Love.” This represented, as host Queen Latifah announced in the introduction, “Four stages, five bands and 13 nominations, and that’s just the opening number.”
This was a big start to perhaps Music’s Biggest Night ever — a wide-ranging night that included an all-star version of “Across The Universe” to raise funds for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami with Stevie Wonder, Bono, Billie Joe Armstrong, Alicia Keys, Steven Tyler, Norah Jones, Tim McGraw, Brian Wilson and Alison Krauss backed by Velvet Revolver; the emotional return of a bald and beautiful Melissa Etheridge, fresh from chemotherapy for breast cancer, joining Joss Stone to offer up the performance of a lifetime by singing “Piece Of My Heart” in tribute to Lifetime Achievement Award winner Janis Joplin; and a soul-sanctifying gospel sequence that saw Mavis Staples (whose family, the Staple Singers, also were honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award), John Legend, Kanye West and the Blind Boys Of Alabama take a watching world to church by way of “I’ll Take You There,” “Jesus Walks” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
Yet following his death on June 10, 2004, Ray Charles in many ways became the focus of this GRAMMY show. After performing her own “If I Ain’t Got You,” Alicia Keys welcomed to the stage Quincy Jones and Jamie Foxx, the actor and singer who gave an Oscar-winning performance as Charles in the 2004 film Ray. “For an old friend,” Foxx explained simply before he and Keys launched into a gorgeous rendition of “Georgia On My Mind” that went from mournful to joyous, with Ray Charles’ longtime friend Jones conducting the orchestra behind them.
All throughout this GRAMMY night, there was a sense of the past and present meeting up and paying each other proper respects. After Queen Latifah helped honor rock forefather Jerry Lee Lewis as a new GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, she announced, “If rock and roll has its fathers, then here are the sons, the one, the only, U2.” The Irish band had intended to perform the roof-rattling “Vertigo,” but due to back problems, Bono, and the band, switched to the less familiar but more emotional “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own.” Turning a setback into a different moment of triumph, Bono introduced the song by saying, “This is for my father, Bob. He was a postal clerk. He would sing opera in the night in a beautiful tenor voice. I like to think when he passed away that he gave that to me. I wish I’d got to know him better.”
The evening’s multigenerational theme continued immediately after when Green Day were presented with the Best Rock Album award. “We know rock and roll can be dangerous and fun at the same time, so thanks a lot,” Billie Joe Armstrong said in accepting the award. Later Green Day would prove this point powerfully onstage, performing an edgy and entertaining version of “American Idiot.”
Other high points included a suitably Southern fried Southern rock salute, introduced by Matthew McConaughey, with Gretchen Wilson, Keith Urban and Tim McGraw teaming up with some Southern rock greats including the current-day Lynyrd Skynyrd; as well as a much-discussed duet (“Escapémonos”) in Spanish from Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony. Emerging superstar Kanye West brought the house down not just with his spirited performance, which ended with him in angel wings, but also with his acceptance speech for Best Rap Album (The College Dropout). “I plan to celebrate and scream and pop champagne every chance I get, because I’m at the GRAMMYs, baby!” A clearly elated West went on to slyly say, “Everybody wanted to know what I would do if I didn’t win. I guess we’ll never know.”
The night also featured the final GRAMMY appearance of James Brown, when the Godfather of Soul seemed to pass at least part of his long-burning torch by appearing — still in fine form — with Usher for a medley of “Caught Up” and part of Brown’s “Sex Machine.”
By evening’s end, Genius Loves Company would take home the Album Of The Year award, and Bonnie Raitt and Billy Preston would salute Charles one last time with “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind.” As Recording Academy President Neil Portnow rightly pointed out in his speech, “On Music’s Biggest Night, we’ve shown you music’s true heart and soul.”