While the music industry mourned one woman with a golden voice Sunday night, it launched another star into previously unknown heights.
The self-declared “biggest night in music” was a triumphant one for Adele, who is recovering from a vocal injury. The 23-year-old Englishwoman took four trophies home from the 54th annual Grammy Awards: for best pop vocal performance, record of the year and song of the year (both for “Rolling in the Deep”), and best album for 21. The victories helped cement her status as the dominant voice of a generation — as Whitney Houston, who died suddenly Saturday afternoon, had been in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
“There really is no way around this. We had a death in our family,” said host LL Cool J at the beginning of the 3 1/2-hour televised show (read the complete transcript of his monologue here), before leading the attendees at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in a prayer for Houston. Later in the program, Jennifer Hudson delivered a chilling rendition of Houston’s signature I Will Always Love You.
It was left to Bruno Mars, decked out in a gold tuxedo, to break the solemnity. One of the night’s early acts, he told the audience: “Tonight we celebrate music. Tonight we celebrate the beautiful Whitney Houston. So get up off your rich asses and dance.”
Best R&B album went to Chris Brown, who has largely been forgiven by the industry for his 2009 assault on then-girlfriend Rihanna, judging by the applause that greeted his win.
Dave Grohl, frontman of the Foo Fighters, won a greater round of applause for sticking up for old-fashioned, low-tech rock ‘n’ roll while accepting his band’s Grammy for best rock performance for “Walk.”
“Rather than use all the fanciest computer stuff you can buy, we made this one in my garage with some microphones and a tape machine,” Grohl said. “This award means a lot because it shows that the human element of making music is what’s most important.”
“Long live rock ‘n’ roll!” he shouted in conclusion, to cheers and applause.
But the longest standing ovation of the night was reserved for Adele, whose performance of “Rolling in the Deep” marked her return to the stage for the first time since she had surgery last November to repair her vocal cords.
Earlier, Adele had made reference to her recovery: “Considering this is a vocal performance [award], I’ve got to thank my doctors, I suppose,” she said as she accepted her Grammy for best pop solo performance.
By the time she received her fourth Grammy of the night, her blasé composure had melted. “It’s been the most life-changing year,” she said, tearfully accepting the award for album of the year.
The night was not just for young artists. In addition to performances by Bruce Springsteen and Sir Paul McCartney, the broadcast included a reunion of surviving members of the Beach Boys — Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks — who will tour this year to celebrate the legendary band’s 50th anniversary.
Later, Glen Campbell took the stage to sing his signature Rhinestone Cowboy. Campbell (by coincidence a former member of The Beach Boys’ touring band), received a lifetime achievement award. He announced to fans last summer that he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He decided to go out with a farewell tour, which is ongoing.
Other winners of major awards included:
• Jay-Z and Kanye West, who took the award for best rap performance for “Otis”. Neither showed up to the Staples Center
• Lady Antebellum won the Grammy for best country album for Own the Night.
• Bon Iver was named best new artist. “I want to say thank you to all the voters, of course. Sweet. Sweet hookup,” he said.
Sunday’s awards marked the first year in which men and women competed on the same field in certain categories, including pop vocal performance. The categories have been reduced from 109 to 78 overall, and fewer than a dozen were given out during the televised performance.