Bonnie Raitt, whose career seemed in jeopardy four years ago when she was dropped by her long-time record company, climaxed a dramatic comeback Wednesday night by winning a Grammy for best album of the year.
Raitt, who also won three other Grammys during the nationally televised ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium, has long been admired in the record industry for her fierce devotion to the blues, including championing veteran artists whose accomplishments have been sometimes overlooked by the pop world.
“This means so much for the kind of music that we do,” the red-haired singer said in accepting the best-album award. “It means that those of us who do rhythm and blues are going to get a chance again.”
In the other key awards, Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” was named best single record of 1989 and the composition itself, written by Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar, was declared song of the year.
The Grammy awards are determined by the approximately 6,000 active members of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.
Not only did Raitt, the 40-year-old daughter of Broadway singer John Raitt, come up in 1989 with her most successful album ever, “Nick of Time,” she also overcame in recent years a drinking problem that led her to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Delighted by the response to the new album last October, she said in an interview at the time, “In many ways, this is like a first album. . . . It’s for a new label (Capitol) and getting all of this attention and critical acclaim
“And it’s my first sober album. . . . Being this age and being straight--it’s been the greatest time.”
In accepting the best-record Grammy, the evening’s other most coveted award, Midler said, “I’m stunned and I’m flabbergasted.
“Hey, Bonnie Raitt, I got one, too.”
Besides Raitt, other multiple winners Wednesday included jazz great Miles Davis, British soul-dance group Soul II Soul, composer-arranger Dave Grusin and country music’s Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Davis, who was also saluted with a prestigious lifetime achievement award, picked up his fifth and sixth career Grammys for best jazz instrumental performance by a big band and by a soloist.
Soul II Soul won Grammys for R&B; group vocal award and R&B; instrumental. The group, however, lost in the more prized category of best new artist to the duo Milli Vanilli.
Grusin, winner of three previous Grammys, picked up three more, including one for the background score of the film “The Fabulous Baker Boys.”
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band won a Grammy for best group vocal and shared a Grammy with Bruce Hornsby for best bluegrass recording.
The evening’s most potentially dramatic moment--the much rumored reunion of the surviving Beatles--failed to materialize because neither George Harrison nor Ringo Starr attended the event, though both were nominated for Grammys.
That left just Paul McCartney, who was also saluted by the Academy with a lifetime achievement award. McCartney, currently on his first U.S. tour in more than a decade, thanked his wife, Linda, and their children for their support, gave a brief environment awareness message and described his former band mates as “beautiful people.”
The absent Harrison won a Grammy for best rock group vocal as a member of the Traveling Wilburys, the veteran rock group that also featured Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and the late Roy Orbison. But the Wilburys lost to Raitt in the best-album competition.
Starr was nominated in the country vocal collaboration category for a duet with Buck Owens, but also lost.
Raitt’s other Grammys were for female pop vocal, female rock vocal and traditional blues recording. The latter was for her duet with John Lee Hooker on “I’m in the Mood,” a track from Hooker’s album, “The Healer.”
Metallica’s “One” was named best rock/metal recording, while Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” single was named best hard rock performance of 1989. Living Colour’s victory shut out the controversial Los Angeles-based hard-rock band Guns N’ Roses.
The latter group had been widely criticized for allegedly racist remarks in a song, “One in a Million,” that was included in its “GN’R Lies” album, which was a contender in the hard-rock category.
About 10 members from the Los Angeles chapter of the Guardian Angels, the self-styled crime fighters, marched in front of the Shrine on Wednesday, handing out leaflets that branded “One in a Million” as racist for its use of racial epithets and New York rap group Public Enemy’s “Welcome to the Terrordome” as anti-Semitic.
Public Enemy--whose “Fight the Power” single lost in the rap category to Young M.C.'s “Bust a Move"--has been criticized by Jewish leaders and others for possible anti-Semitic attitudes ever since a controversial interview by Professor Griff, the group’s former “minister of information,” that appeared last May in the Washington Times.
Both Axl Rose, the lead singer of Guns N’ Roses, and Chuck D., the leader of Public Enemy, have denied racist or bigoted attitudes.
Michael Bolton won best male pop vocalist for his recording “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” with the pop duo award going to Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville.
Former Eagle Don Henley was judged best male rock vocalist.
The video awards were strictly a family affair. Michael Jackson won in the short-form music video category as his younger sister, Janet, triumphed in the long-form music video competition.
The Winans family teamed up for three indvidual Grammys in the gospel balloting.
Harry Connick Jr.'s victory in the male jazz vocal category is likely to stir criticism from the purist wing of the jazz community that has tended to think of Connick primarily as a cabaret or pop singer.
Two names more commonly associated with pop and rock, Dr. John and Rickie Lee Jones, were also honored for best jazz vocal by a duo or group.
Veteran Ruth Brown, a star over the years in the R&B; and rock fields, was named best female jazz vocalist for her album, “Blues on Broadway.”
Bobby Brown and Anita Baker were named best male and female R&B; vocalists.
In the country field, k.d. lang was named best female singer for the second straight year, while Lyle Lovett’s victory in the male singer category ended a three-year win streak for Randy Travis.
Los Lobos was judged the best Mexican-American performance, while Jose Feliciano was cited as best Latin pop record.
Celia Cruz and Ray Barretto shared the best tropical Latin performance award, while Ziggy Marley captured the reggae Grammy for the second straight year.
The late actress-comedian Gilda Radner was honored for best spoken word recording. “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” was named best musical cast show album. Peter Asher was voted pop producer of the year.
In the composition categories, Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run,” from the film “Working Girl,” was named best song written for a movie, while Danny Elfman’s “Batman” theme was voted best instrumental composition.
The classical Grammys produced a bumper crop of surprises this year.
Best album--a category dominated by big-budget, big-name symphonies and operas--went to the Emerson Quartet’s Bartok set, which also took the chamber music award. Placido Domingo and Kathleen Battle lost the vocal soloist prize to Dawn Upshaw and her Barber-Menotti-Harbison-Stravinsky program with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.
Memorial sentiment did not help Herbert von Karajan’s final recording, nor did 25 weeks on the best-seller charts boost Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony past Leonard Bernstein’s Mahler Third in the orchestral category.
Other areas proved more predictable. Bloc voting from the Atlanta classical contingent no doubt contributed to the choral performance and engineering awards for Robert Shaw’s recording of Britten’s “War Requiem.” Steve Reich--the only American composer on the ballot--took the composition prize for “Different Trains.”
The award for best opera went to the Metropolitan Opera’s recording of Wagner’s “Die Walkure.”
Times staff writer John Henken contributed to this story.