The swan song of the late Ray Charles, an album of duets called “Genius Loves Company,” brought him a posthumous bounty at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday night, including the first trophies for album and record of the year in his long and illustrious career.
The album not only will send six Grammys to the estate of Charles but also had wins in two technical fields and an instrumental arrangement award, bringing its total to a record nine Grammys. That surpassed Santana’s “Supernatural” in 1999 and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in 1983, which each scored eight trophies.
Charles, who died in June in Los Angeles at age 73, devoted the final months of his life to two projects that have become powerful career signatures: the album honored at the Staples Center ceremony, and the film “Ray,” the biopic that is nominated for best picture honors at the coming Academy Awards.
“I’ll simply say it again, humbly, we accept this wonderful, wonderful award, and we offer humongous thanks to you individually and collectively from the bottom of our hearts,” Joe Adams, the singer’s longtime manager, said in accepting the album of the year award at the conclusion of the Grammy ceremonies, broadcast nationally on CBS.
Charles joined John Lennon as a posthumous winner of the best album Grammy. The former Beatle’s name was called for “Double Fantasy,” his 1980 collection with Yoko Ono.
“Genius Loves Company” features Charles performing with Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Johnny Mathis, Willie Nelson and a gallery of other stars who trekked to his Los Angeles studio to record the platinum-selling collection that is peppered with standards and familiar hits.
One of those classics, a rendition of “Here We Go Again” by Charles and young chanteuse Norah Jones, won in the prestigious best record category, which names the best single recording of the year. As she walked to the stage to accept the gramophone statuette, the voice of her late collaborator was piped into the arena. “Ah, listen to that,” Jones said.
For Jones, it was the second record of the year award in three years -- she won for the ubiquitous gossamer hit “Don’t Know Why” two years ago.
Other top winners of the awards handed out by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences included Alicia Keys, who followed up on the powerful showing for her 2001 debut album (she won five Grammys that year) by taking four trophies this time. Her “The Diary of Alicia Keys” won best R&B; album and “You Don’t Know My Name” took honors as best R&B; song.
Friends and fellow stars of the urban music renaissance, Kanye West and Usher, each won three awards. West, who won best rap album for his CD “The College Dropout,” had perhaps the most dramatic microphone moments as he intensely charted his path from a serious car crash in October 2002 to the present day.
“When I had my accident, I found out at that moment that nothing in life is promised except death,” West said. He went on to give “thanks to the fans, thanks to the accident, thanks to God.”
Poking fun at his own reputation for intense competitiveness and recent reports of backstage grousing at other award shows, West told the crowd he knew some people were wondering if he would be “wilding out” if he went home empty-handed. He held aloft his new gleaming piece of celebrity hardware and said, “I guess we’ll never know.”
The story line of the night, though, was soul man Charles. He added six Grammys to his previous lifetime total of 12. (His album and music from it also won three other awards Sunday that will not be engraved with his name; the victories were in categories that awarded supporting musicians and technical crew.)
Charles was present in spirit and mind when Jamie Foxx, the actor nominated for an Oscar for his title-role turn in “Ray,” joined Keys for a duet of “Georgia on My Mind,” one of Charles’ signature hits. When Foxx, a classically trained pianist, sat at the piano to perform, he quietly said into the microphone: “For an old friend.” Instead of mimicking the trademark Charles falsetto, Foxx then sang in his own voice. Foxx and Keys were joined on stage by an orchestra led by Quincy Jones, the dean of R&B; music and a friend of the late Charles.
On a 3 1/2 -hour broadcast that featured more than twice as many live performances as award presentations, there were other notable musical groupings, including one with Bono, Jones, Keys, Stevie Wonder, the guitarist Slash and others in a performance of the Beatles’ song “Across the Universe” that was instantly made available online as a fundraiser for victims of the South Asia earthquake and tsunami. There was also a Janis Joplin tribute by newcomer Joss Stone and veteran Melissa Etheridge and a melodramatic turn in Spanish by newlyweds Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony in their breathlessly promoted public debut as a duet.
The song of the year Grammy (the award that recognizes songwriters) went to John Mayer for the track “Daughters,” from his album “Heavier Things.” In his acceptance speech, he thanked his grandmother for having a daughter herself, one “named ‘my mom.’ ”
West, having garnered a leading 10 Grammy nominations, was expected by many observers to walk away with the highly prized award for best new artist but, with an audible gasp in the Staples Center audience, the statuette went to Maroon5, the Los Angeles pop act that began as a junior high group in Brentwood in the 1990s and carved out a reputation in local clubs with a sound that was beholden to the songbook of Stevie Wonder. Lead singer Adam Levine may have heard the surprise in the arena -- his first comment in accepting the award was to praise “the unbelievable” West.
There were first-timers even among the veterans on Sunday as Brian Wilson, the long-troubled musical auteur of the Beach Boys, won his first Grammy. The Beach Boys racked up plenty of critical and commercial success in their years in the sun but never won one of their industry’s awards. If the exclusion was surprising, it ended in anticlimactic fashion in the scores of awards handed out before the telecast began: Wilson took the award in rock instrumental category for the 2 1/2 -minute track “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow,” culled from his CD “Smile,” Wilson’s revisiting of a lost work from his Beach Boys heyday. In the 1960s, the recording sessions for the song were seen as proof of Wilson’s mounting psychological problems: He insisted the musicians in the studio wear firefighters’ helmets to get in the feel of the composition.
“I waited 42 years for this Grammy, and it was well worth the wait,” Wilson said backstage. “It represents triumph and achievement in music that I feel that I deserved, and I’m really glad I won.”
Another surprising first-time winner: Britney Spears. The pop singer’s recording career began in 1999, which isn’t that long ago, but she had watched from outside until Sunday as her pop peer group, from Christina Aguilera to ‘N Sync, took home Grammys. She won this time around for best dance recording for “Toxic.”
One other drought ended as music singer Loretta Lynn picked up her first awards in 33 years. This time it was for best country album for “Van Lear Rose” and best country collaboration with vocals for “Portland Oregon,” her career-revitalizing effort with Jack White of the rock band the White Stripes. In accepting the album honor, the Coal Miner’s Daughter flashed a disarming folksiness that made rocker White seem sheepish at her side.
“This is what this business is all about, ain’t it?” Lynn hooted at the dais. She playfully scolded the shaggy-haired White with a “Jack, c’mon here, baby” and “Say thank you to everybody.” He responded both times with a “Yes, ma’am.”
The Irish rock band U2 won three Grammys (best rock song, rock performance by a group and short-form music video, all for the song “Vertigo”) to take its career total to 17, and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. used the group’s acceptance speech time to apologize to the band’s “long-suffering fans” for a fiasco that saw members of its fan club get mired in system breakdowns when they were supposed to receive preferential treatment in the sale of U2 concert tickets.
Green Day, the only hard rock act nominated in either the best album or best record category, settled for the title of best rock album. From behind heavy mascara, lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong told the crowd that his Bay Area trio were at home with the rowdy statements of the CD “American Idiot” and the Grammy’s glitzy setting. “Rock ‘n’ roll,” he said, “can be dangerous and fun at the same time.”
In the producer of the year (non-classical) category, the award went to the studio leader with the purest of pop credentials, John Shanks, who was honored as the guiding hand in the 2004 recordings of Kelly Clarkson, Ashlee Simpson and Hilary Duff (as well as less Top 40 fare by Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow and Robbie Robertson).
Bill Clinton picked up his second Grammy for the recitation of his autobiography, “My Life,” which won best spoken-word album.
The former president won his first Grammy last year for his participation in a collection of “Peter and the Wolf” tales that won in the spoken-word category for children’s releases. His wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), won a Grammy in 1996 for a reading of her book “It Takes a Village.”
Politics also echoed in the Grammy category for best comedy recording, which went to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents
Recordings released between Oct. 1, 2003, and Sept. 30, 2004, were eligible for Grammys. This year’s 107 categories tied the record for the most in the academy’s history. Eleven of the awards were handed out during the broadcast. The voting membership of the Recording Academy numbers more than 12,000, including musicians, producers and others in the industry who have secured a set number of recording credits.
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Album of the Year: “Genius Loves Company,” Ray Charles and various artists
Record of the Year: “Here We Go Again,” Ray Charles and Norah Jones
Song of the Year: “Daughters,” John Mayer
Best New Artist: Maroon5