Two of today's hottest young R&B; stars, Chris Brown and Rihanna, spent the night before their scheduled Grammy Award appearances with their arms around each other at a high-profile industry party, the prelude to what should have been successive national TV performances and an emotional high point for the couple.
Instead, neither performer made it to the Grammys as Brown turned himself in to Los Angeles police Sunday evening following an early morning argument and alleged physical assault that played out on a quiet street in Hancock Park. Los Angeles police booked the 19-year-old singer on suspicion of making criminal threats. Brown later posted $50,000 bail and was released shortly after the end of the show, but police said additional charges may be filed against him when the case is presented to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
The two stars' absence from the Grammy ceremony sparked a dramatic last-minute change in the production, for which veteran soul singer Al Green came to the rescue.
"I was in the shower and didn't have anything on, and they said, 'Whatever you have, throw it in the bag and come on,' " Green said backstage about getting the call to perform. He said he was not given an explanation of the last-minute invite. "We had two hours and 40 minutes to rehearse, come back onstage and change and then go out and do it."
Brown and 20-year-old Rihanna, who was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty, had been together Saturday night in Beverly Hills at the pre-Grammy gala, hosted by the Grammy-sponsoring Recording Academy and veteran music executive Clive Davis.
After the gala, Brown and a woman drove through the upscale Los Angeles neighborhood about 12:30 a.m. Sunday in a rented Lamborghini and started arguing, police said. Brown stopped the car on North June Street, the two got out and the argument escalated, according to police.
The victim, who was later identified by sources familiar with the case as Rihanna, suffered visible injuries and identified Brown as her attacker, according to the police report. Authorities did not describe her injuries or whether she was treated for them.
A witness called 911, but police said Brown was gone by the time officers arrived at the scene. Police routinely book domestic disputes in which one party exhibits any sign of physical injury as felonies, a police source said.
Shortly before the show began at 5 p.m. at Staples Center downtown, Grammy officials issued a statement that said, "We have just been informed Rihanna will not be attending tonight's 51st Grammy Awards. Rihanna will not be performing. We are sorry to see she is unable to join us this evening."
Nearly two hours into the show, not long before Brown turned himself in, Grammy officials released a similar statement regarding Brown's cancellation.
Brown arrived at the Wilshire station about 7:15 p.m. accompanied by his attorney, Mark Geragos, and the attorney's investigator, Scott Ross. They drove into a parking lot behind the police station on Venice Boulevard just east of La Brea Avenue in a black vehicle. Brown and the men entered through a back door, where a sign stated "authorized personnel only."
At Staples Center
News of the episode sent a shudder through Staples Center, with reports rippling through the place via Twitter, iPhone and BlackBerry.
"I'm hearing some mixed things about what happened," "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul said Sunday at Staples. "All I can say is I hope Rihanna heals quickly. She's a lovely girl."
Rihanna had three Grammy nominations going into Sunday's awards and Brown had two. He was to perform his hit "Forever," a smooth dance-floor workout about everlasting love, including the line: "It's you and me moving at the speed of light into eternity."
They were both nominated in the pop vocal collaboration category; Rihanna with rock group Maroon 5 for "If I Never See Your Face Again," Brown for his duet with "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks on the track "No Air" from Sparks' debut album. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss took the award, for "Rich Woman."
A publicist for the Barbados-born Rihanna, who has sold more digital song downloads than any other artist in 2008, with nearly 10 million tracks, said Sunday night, "Rihanna is well. Thank you for concern and support." Her whereabouts after the incident were not known.
Her song "Disturbia," which she'd been scheduled to perform at the ceremony, was the sixth bestselling digital track of the year, with sales of almost 2.8 million copies. Her performance slot was given to Green, who was joined by country singer-guitarist Keith Urban during the hastily arranged rendition of Green's 1971 hit "Let's Stay Together."
Brown's record label spokesman did not respond to The Times' request for comment. Brown finished 2008 as the fourth-best selling artist in the digital realm, posting 6.8 million tracks sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
In a 2007 interview with Giant magazine, Brown said his mother had been physically abused by his stepfather.
"He used to hit my mom," he was quoted as saying in the Giant article. "He made me terrified all the time, terrified like I had to pee on myself. I remember one night he made her nose bleed. I was crying and thinking, 'I'm just gonna go crazy on him one day . . . ' I hate him to this day."
In the same interview, he said he had studied martial arts, which he used to defend himself once in a fight with several classmates. Brown said after his mother broke up the fight, he urged her not to go to the police. "Don't go to no cops pressing no charges," he reported begging her, "like we don't do that in the hood."
Brown's 2005 debut album, released when he was 16, earned the Tappahannock, Wash., native comparisons to a young Michael Jackson, both for his elastic vocal skills and his electrifying dance moves.
Rihanna burst out of Barbados the same year with a hit debut album, "Music of the Sun." Her 2007 single "Umbrella" was one of the biggest hits of that year. Her latest album, "Good Girl Gone Bad," made her an international star.
They attended last year's Grammy Award ceremony together.
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Times staff writers Chris Lee, Mark Medina and Ari B. Bloomekatz contributed to this report.