Tracy Chapman was derailed Wednesday in her bid to become the most honored debut artist in the 31-year history of the record industry's Grammy Awards.
The singer-songwriter, whose folk-flavored tales about society's underclass scored critical and commercial triumphs in 1988, won Grammys for best new artist, contemporary folk recording and female pop vocal.
But Chapman lost to Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" in the best song category, eliminating any chance that she could break the record of five Grammys set in 1980 by Christopher Cross' debut album.
The folk award was among 61 announced during a pre-telecast ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium, site of the nationally televised event sponsored by the 6,000-member National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.
Other artists who picked up multiple awards during the pre-telecast affair were Anita Baker, best female rhythm and blues vocal and best rhythm and blues song; the Irish rock band U2, saluted for rock group vocal and music performance video; Robin Williams, children's recording and comedy recording; Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, classical album, orchestral recording and choral recording, and Sir Georg Solti, opera recording and chamber music.
Coupled with his best song victory, McFerrin's award Wednesday for best male pop vocal was his seventh Grammy citation since 1985.
The country mother-and-daughter team The Judds were honored for best country vocal by a duo or group for their recording of "Give a Little Love." It was their fourth victory in that category in the last five years.
The late Roy Orbison won his second career Grammy, cited for his country vocal collaboration with k.d. Lang on a remake of his own '60s hit, "Crying."
After accepting the award for her husband, who died of a heart attack on Dec. 6, Barbara Orbison said backstage, "Roy was so fortunate to have felt the love of the fans and the whole world before he passed on."
On a lighter note, veteran blues man Willie Dixon, whose win in the best traditional blues recording category was his first Grammy ever, quipped to the press backstage, "Better late than never. I give in and I give out, but I don't give up."
As the pre-telecast awards were announced inside the auditorium, about 350 fans waited outside the Shrine, hoping to catch glimpses of the recording stars as they entered the building. Unlike the Oscars, where film personalities make a big splash by entering the building through the front door, most of the performers and big-name guests at the Grammys enter the building through a backstage area that is blocked off to fans.
Once the telecast began inside the hall, Chapman's quest to break Cross' 1980 record provided the most drama. (The record for most Grammys in a single evening was eight, a mark achieved in 1984 by Michael Jackson.)
Chapman's pop female vocal award was the first award announced on the program, and the singer accepted the Grammy with the same shy, retiring manner that characterizes her concert appearances. She later returned to the stage to be acknowledged as the best new artist.
Until her Elektra album was released last spring, Cleveland-born Chapman, now 24, was little known outside the club circuit in Boston, where she was living while attending Tufts University.
Because the stark realism in her themes--many of which deal with such subjects as welfare mothers and children victimized by racism--is so far from the upbeat, dance-minded music that has dominated Top 40 radio station play lists in recent years, Chapman's album was considered a commercial long shot when it was released.
But the reaction was dramatic: glowing reviews and album sales of more than 2 million. Chapman climaxed her remarkable year by co-starring with Bruce Springsteen and Sting on Amnesty International's worldwide "Human Rights Now!" tour last fall.
Her most popular song, "Fast Car," was a look at a woman's struggle to break free of emotional and economic bonds.
The single was up Wednesday for best record. Chapman was also nominated for best album, song and new artist.
Though the music academy has made great strides in recent years in reducing criticism for being out of touch with "cutting edge" elements in pop music, there was one embarrassment Wednesday when three nominees in the newly established rap category said they were boycotting the show because the rap award was not included among the 15 awards announced during the telecast.
Will Smith, the Fresh Prince of rap duo D. J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, said at an afternoon press conference in West Hollywood: "We're not anti-Grammy. Our problem is with the 1989 Grammy Awards show. It's like you go to school for 12 years and they give you a diploma, but you aren't allowed to walk down the aisle.
"It's not like we got F's through school; we got straight A's," he said, referring to the group's artistic and sales credentials. The duo's latest album, "He's the D. J., I'm the Rapper," has sold more than 2 million copies. Also not attending the ceremony: rap nominees Salt-N-Pepa and L. L. Cool J.
As it turned out, D. J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince won the rap award.
First time winners in jazz included Take 6 (group vocal), Betty Carter (female vocal), Michael Brecker (solo instrumental). Others winning Grammys for the first time included Carlos Santana (rock instrumental), Bill Monroe (bluegrass), Shadowfax (new age recording), Roberto Carlos (Latin pop performance), Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers (reggae).
Repeat winners: Robert Palmer, named best rock vocalist for the second time; Amy Grant, female gospel performance, her fifth award; Larnelle Harris, male gospel performance, fifth award; David Sanborn, pop instrumental, fifth award; Robert Cray Band, contemporary blues recording, third award.
"Into the Woods" was judged best musical cast show album, while Mike Post's "The Theme From L.A. Law" was named best instrumental composition. "The Last Emperor" was voted best album of original musical score written for a motion picture or television. Phil Collins' "Two Hearts" was named best song written for a motion picture or television.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson won a Grammy in the spoken-documentary field for a speech that was included in Aretha Franklin's "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism" album.