Charles, Keys, Usher, West Emerge As Top 47th GRAMMY Winners
When the world heard James Brown call Usher the godson of soul, it was a fitting synopsis of the GRAMMY Awards, a show that often honors music's traditions and its bold new artists simultaneously.
Tradition in the form of the late Ray Charles and his album Genius Loves Company, proved the big winner at the 47th GRAMMYs, with Charles taking five awards â€” among them Album Of The Year as well as Record Of The Year for the Norah Jones duet "Here We Go Again" â€” while the album earned another three for its producers and engineers.
But GRAMMYs were spread among a number of high-profile newer artists, with four going to Alicia Keys and three each to Kanye West and Usher. The three were the top nominated artists this year.
Norah Jones and U2 also won three GRAMMYs.
The high-energy opening set the tone. Played out on multiple stages, flowing from the kinetic Black Eyed Peas reprising their "Let's Get It Started," to Gwen Stefani, with Eve, performing a sassy version of "Rich Girl," Los Lonely Boys singing a bilingual "Heaven," followed by Best New Artist winner Maroon5 playing "This Love" and Franz Ferdinand's high-energy "Take Me Out" leading to a segment finale.
Queen Latifah â€” nominated for her most recent release, the vocal jazz of The Dana Owens Album â€” became the first GRAMMY Awards host in three years, taking the reins to open the telecast by recounting some of the great moments of GRAMMYs past.
Singer/songwriter Alicia Keys, actor Jamie Foxx and producer Quincy Jones collaborated on the early highlight of the evening. After Keys sang a stirring "If I Ain't Got You," Foxx, nominated for an Oscar for his stunning turn as Ray Charles in Ray, joined her onstage at the piano while Jones conducted. Their version of the classic "Georgia On My Mind," which Foxx dedicated "to an old friend," was emotional and respectful without trying to mimic Charles' version.
Queen Latifah introduced the most surprising musical segment of the evening â€” "fifteen minutes everybody is going to be talking about in the morning," as she put it â€” featuring back-to-back Latin music and Southern rock.
First, recently married husband-and-wife duo Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez invited us into their bedroom for a duet performance of the ballad "Escapemonos" (Let's Escape). Singing in Spanish, they spoke of escaping the crowd, something that sounded autobiographical coming from these tabloid favorites.
But a brief pause later, the feel and the groove changed dramatically as Gretchen Wilson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Keith Urban, Elvin Bishop, Tim McGraw and Allman Brothers' guitarist Dickey Betts, revisited classic Southern rock tracks such as "Freebird," and "Ramblin' Man" before the "Sweet Home Alabama" grand finale. It was arguably the best, and most improbable, bar band ever put together, and it turned Staples Center â€” and millions of living rooms â€” into a good ol' rockin' neighborhood joint.
The eyebrow-raiser of the evening however was perhaps Queen Latifah's turn as Dana Owens, offering a nuanced version of the classic "Lush Life" before launching into a feisty, swinging, "Baby Get Lost."
Director Quentin Tarantino introduced Green Day for an explosive "American Idiot." Some might have thought punk rock dead, but it turns out it is not only still relevant, but it's as provocative and confrontational as ever, and Green Day has evolved it further with the first punk rock opera. As a celebration of rock and roll, it's hard to think of a better tribute.
Gospel, a deep, powerful, ever-present sound in American popular music, was celebrated in a stirring segment that took the audience on an extraordinary trip â€” led by Mavis Staples, John Legend, Kanye West and the Blind Boys Of Alabama â€” that traveled from the church to the streets and back again, with traditional ensemble singing and rap.
West then accepted the Best Rap Album award by saying " When I had my accident [West broke his jaw in a car accident], I found out that nothing in life is promised except death. Appreciate the moment." He then added, "People wondered what I would do if I didn't win," he said to some hooting and hollering from the audience. "I guess we'll never know." West was nominated for 10 GRAMMYs, the most by any artist this year.
Best New Artist nominee Joss Stone and Melissa Etheridge paid tribute to mutual idol Janis Joplin by evoking her soulful power with versions of two of her signature pieces: "Cry Baby" and "Piece Of My Heart." Etheridge took the bold step of performing bald, having lost her hair to chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. This GRAMMY show was her first public appearance since undergoing treatment.
Recording Academy President Neil Portnow devoted much of his telecast remarks to the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia, and one of the highlights of the evening was the spectacular all-star tsunami relief performance, anchored by Velvet Revolver and featuring Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, Bono, Keys, Alison Krauss, Tim McGraw, Steven Tyler, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, soul great Al Green and Brian Wilson in a version of the Beatles' "Across The Universe." The song was immediately downloable on iTunes and CBS.com, with the proceeds going to benefit the survivors of the tragedy.
The GRAMMY Awards ceremony is a subtle mix of stagecraft and spontaneity, never more evident than when Stevie Wonder, as he was set to present the Song Of The Year award, teased the audience with a snippet of "Isn't She Lovely." It was, well, magic.
Another endearing moment came when singer Loretta Lynn won for Best Country Album for her adventurous Van Lear Rose. She took her collaborator, Jack White of the White Stripes, to the stage with her and then nudged him to speak. White took the opportunity to tell the story: "Loretta told me, 'Fourteen of my songs got banned by country radio, and every time they did that, the song went to No. 1.' Well they didn't play this record either, but it's No. 1 now," he said while referring to Lynn as an American treasure.
The final performance of the evening, fittingly, was dedicated to Charles. A miniature, stripped down, soulful version of "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind," by Bonnie Raitt and Billy Preston that ultimately proved the coda to an astounding career and a big night of GRAMMY wins for the Genius.