Monday, February 11, 2008

The 50th Annual Grammy Awards

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences realized that when it comes to the Grammy awards…especially the 50th anniversary awards…it’s the music that counts. There are only so many laundry lists of record executives and shout outs to God that the audience wants to sit through so, again, they kept the number of awards they handed out on the prime time broadcast to a minimum and concentrated on presenting an eclectic array of performances. For the most part it worked to make for an entertaining show.

As far as the awards went the Academy went against the prevailing wisdom that Amy Winehouse’s train wreck of a personal life would preclude them from honoring her by giving her 5 Grammys…including plum prizes for Best New Artist, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year (the latter two for the ironic but undeniably funky “Rehab”.) Winehouse (above with her Mom), originally denied a visa to come to the ceremonies, performed in a small venue in London before an enthusiastic audience. Her performances of “You Know I’m No Good” and “Rehab” were a bit ragged but potent nevertheless. She seems genuinely shocked by her Record of the Year win, which announced just after her performance.

Winehouse lost the coveted Album of the Year to a surprise winner: Herbie Hancock’s (below) lovely River: The Joni Letters (only the second jazz album to win the prize following the 1965 award to Getz/Gilberto by Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto.) Kanye West lost out on this one for the third time (both Vince Gill and Usher took playful jabs at West’s petulant behavior during previous awards shows.)

The show itself was a celebration of Grammy’s 50 years with lots of Grammy favorites among those presenting awards or introducing performances. Among the very familiar faces were Quincy Jones (27 Grammy wins), Stevie Wonder (25), Cher, Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, and Ringo Starr.

Alicia Keys opened the show with a duet with the youthful ghost of Frank Sinatra on “Learning the Blues” (Keys would return later for a rousing version of “No One” with some help from John Mayer) followed by Carrie Underwood romping through “Before He Cheats” backed up by a phalanx of percussionists.

Some of the performances that followed were rousing: Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang’s soaring take of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, Beyonce and the immortal Tina Turner shimmying through “Proud Mary”, Aretha Franklin and BeBe Winans leading a gospel medley, young Timothy Mitchum and Carol Woods (from the movie Across the Universe) with an amazing gospel version of the Beatles’ “Let it Be”, Kanye West’s heartfelt “Hey Mama”, Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban’s majestic “The Prayer”.

Others were fun…the reunited Time teaming up with Rhianna, Foo Fighters blazing through “The Pretender” with an orchestra conducted by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and a violin solo by this year’s “My Grammy Moment” winner, West and Daft Punk’s otherworldly performance of “Stronger”, John Fogerty teaming up with rock and roll fathers Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, Feist’s understated version of “1234”.

(A couple were….um…a bit more problematic:’s rap was lame and the duet on “That Old Black Magic” between veteran Keely Smith…still in fine voice…and Kid Rock…not exactly Louis Prima… was a bit awkward. And there was a bit too much Cirque du Soleil for my taste.)

All in all, Grammy didn’t embarrass itself during its golden anniversary show and that was all good.

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