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47th Annual Grammy Awards Honor Today's Stars Along with <i>Genius</i> Ray Charles

"When I had my accident, I found out at that moment nothing in life is promised except death," said Kanye West. "If you had the opportunity to play this game of life, you need to appreciate every moment. A lot of people don't appreciate their moment until it's passed."

Last year, Kanye West said he was "robbed" when he didn't win top honors at the American Music Awards. Kanye wasn't robbed Sunday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles: The 10-time Grammy nominee took the Best Rap Album prize with his debut solo disc, The College Dropout. The hit single "Jesus Walks," also took the trophy for Best Rap Song.

Kanye West's heartfelt acceptance speech in which he mentioned a 2002 car crash which broke his jaw in three places came during an evening in which only 11 trophies were awarded over more than three hours.

Performances were the name of the game: country stars came together with the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd to salute Southern Rock. Salsa star Marc Anthony sang onstage for the first time with his movie star wife, Jennifer Lopez. Teenage British singer Joss Stone joined Melissa Etheridge in saluting Janis Joplin.

Janis was one of 10 acts receiving Lifetime Achievement Awards. These awards served as the framing device for the telecast, in which modern acts performed in the spirit of their predecessors.

One musician in particular owned the evening. Dubbed "The Genius," Ray Charles overcame poverty and blindness to change the sound of pop music. This year, the Grammy judges awarded him eight posthumous trophies. His final effort, Genius Loves Company, hit the market two months after his death last June at age 73. It's the best-selling album of his career and it took Album Of The Year honors. It also contains the Record Of The Year winner, "Here We Go Again," featuring Norah Jones. In accepting the award, Norah spoke about working with Ray Charles.

"Oh, man … before these wonderful people who helped make this wonderful record, I would just personally like to say I think it just shows how wonderful music can be," she said. "It's at a hundred percent with Ray Charles. How many millions of people has he made smile, and will continue through his records. So, thanks for letting me be part of it."

Four acts collected a mighty 33 nominations in this year's Grammy race. Joining Kanye West and Ray Charles were Usher and Alicia Keys, two of today's brightest crossover rhythm and blues singers. Friends since they were teenagers, both prospered on Sunday night. Each won three awards, while sharing the Best R & B Duo Or Group Performance Grammy with their chart-topping duet, "My Boo."

Sunday's telecast was largely devoid of surprises. Many Grammy watchers rightly predicted a big night for Ray Charles, while the play-it-safe mentality of Grammy voters was evident in Maroon 5's selection as Best New Artist. John Mayer was also an obvious Song Of The Year selection with his ballad, "Daughters."

The evening's most interesting moment arose from the Best Country Album race. Legendary singer Loretta Lynn, who had received her sole Grammy back in 1971, took the prize for Van Lear Rose, an edgy project she undertook with producer Jack White of the alternative rock act The White Stripes. Their duet "Portland Oregon" took the prize for Best Country Collaboration With Vocals.

While many of Sunday's acts paid tribute to their musical forbears, an all-star group turned its attention toward more recent developments. Performing John Lennon's "Across The Universe" was Bono of U2; Brian Wilson; Stevie Wonder; Norah Jones; Alicia Keys; Tim McGraw; and the rock act Velvet Revolver. Available as an internet download, their performance will go toward Asian tsunami relief.

The Grammy Awards are 47 years old. What began as a handful of industry honors has grown into a musical juggernaut encompassing 107 categories. Voted on by the 13,000 members of the National Academy Of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Grammy Awards have always carried special weight with performers for one reason: Their peers have judged them the best in the business.