While the Recording Academy looked back a half-century of Grammy winners, new honorees at Sunday night's ceremony included a rap innovator and a troubled British vocalist who obtained a visa too late to enter the United States for the telecast. VOA's Ray McDonald has more.
The Grammy voters knew Amy Winehouse was "no good", but they still kept returning. The trouble-prone British songstress, initially denied a U.S. visa based on her history of drug use, dominated Sunday's 50th annual Grammy Awards ceremony. Amy later received a visa, but could not travel in time to appear at the Los Angeles venue.
The 24-year-old Winehouse made good on five of her six nominations: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and Best Pop Vocal Album, for "Back To Black." Her live performance from London provided one of the evening's highlights. Clutching her mother, Amy managed to thank both her neighborhood and her imprisoned husband, Blake Fielder-Civil.
"Thank you to everyone at Island Records," she said. "To my mom and dad! To my Blake! My Blake incarcerated! And for London! This is for London, 'cause Camden Town [London landmark Camden Market] is burning down!"
Providing a prickly counterpoint to Amy Winehouse was rapper Kanye West, who was very much in attendance. The Chicago rapper brought his career Grammy total to 10, collecting trophies for Best Rap Solo Performance, Best Rap Performance By A Duo or Group, Best Rap Song, for "Good Life," and Best Rap Album, for "Graduation." Accepting the latter award, Kanye thanked his late mother Donda, while chiding the orchestra for attempting to shorten his speech.
"A lot of people said 'hip-hop is dead', not just [rapper] Nazz, a lot of people just said the artform wasn't poppin' like that anymore,' he said. "I wanted to cross the genres, and show the people how we could still express ourselves with something fresh and new, and that's what Hip-Hop has always been about, coming out with new sounds and stuff … [orchestra begins to play] … Come on! You gonna play music on me? And, just to say something about my mother, I appreciate all the support, all the prayers. It would be in good taste to stop the music, then. (Music fades) I appreciate everything, and I know you're really proud of me right now. I know you wouldn't want me to stop. You'd want me to be the Number One artist in the world. And Mama, all I'm gonna do is keep making you proud. We run this."
Out of 110 awards, 100 were announced prior to the three-and-one-half-hour telecast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The emphasis was on performance, with the Grammys' parent organization, the Recording Academy, stressing historical continuity. This made for pairings both inspiring, such as Alicia Keys' show-opening duet with Frank Sinatra, and puzzling, as when Kid Rock attempted to scat while singing "That Old Black Magic" with 1950s' jazz favorite Keely Smith. Other musical highlights included Beyonce and Tina Turner's rousing rendition of "Proud Mary," and a reunion by 1980s' R&B act The Time, who also performed with Rihanna. The 19-year-old Barbados native collected her first career Grammy: Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, for "Umbrella."
Accepting the Best Country Album award from former Beatle Ringo Starr, 18-time winner Vince Gill got off the best quip of the night - at Kanye West's expense.
"I just got an award given to me by a Beatle," Gill said. "Have you had that happen yet, Kanye?"
Viewers who endured the occasionally sleep-inducing telecast were rewarded with a final shock, when 67-year-old jazz pianist Herbie Hancock took the Album of the Year trophy for "River: The Joni Letters." His tribute to singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was the first jazz album to take the title since 1965, a fact in which he reveled at the podium.
"It's been 43 years since the first and only time since that a jazz artist got the Album of the Year Award," he said. "And, I'd like to thank the Academy for courageously breaking the mold this time. And, in doing so, honor the giants upon whose shoulders I stand; some of whom, like Miles Davis, John Coltraine, unquestionable deserved this award in the past. But, this is a new day that proves that the impossible can be made possible. Yes, we can … to coin a phrase."
While the recording industry undergoes a bumpy transition from traditional music delivery methods to digital downloads, the Grammy Awards retain one overriding advantage over other honors. Musicians' peers and not the public determine the winners; a trait which should stand the Grammys in good stead during their second half-century.