On an evening overshadowed by the shocking death of a singer who was once one of pop music’s most radiant young stars, the pop stratosphere’s latest bright light, 23-year-old British R&B-soul singer Adele, was showered Sunday night with six Grammy Awards for cathartic music she channeled out of her own pain and despair.
Adele delivered the biggest album of 2011 with “21,” her sophomore outing that explored various facets of a painful romantic breakup, and scored the year’s biggest single, “Rolling in the Deep.” She won in all six categories in which she was nominated, including the marquee triple crown of album, record and song for widely acclaimed songs that reach to the depths of heartache to find solace and hope.
But solace and hope ultimately eluded Whitney Houston, who died Saturday at age 48 on the eve of the Grammy show, after struggling for more than two decades with drug abuse and other issues. She died just hours before she had been scheduled to attend the annual pre-Grammy party hosted by Clive Davis, the veteran music executive who discovered and signed her to her first record contract nearly three decades ago, guiding her to superstardom with soaring hits including “I Will Always Love You,” “Saving All My Love for You” and “Greatest Love of All.”
The Houston and Adele stories also combined to steal some thunder from the Foo Fighters, the long-running alt-rock band that went five for six on the night, ceding only the album-of-the-year honor to Adele.
Host LL Cool J opened the show — after Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band played their latest single, “We Take Care of Our Own” — with a prayer for “our fallen sister,” saying it was appropriate to proceed with an award show because “the power of music is what brings us all here.”
“This is ridiculous,” the singer born Adele Laurie Blue Adkins said on accepting record of the year, and then broke into tears when “21” was announced as the album winner to cap the 3½-hour awards show.
“This record is inspired by something everyone’s been through, which is a rubbish relationship,” she said. “It’s gone on to do things I can’t tell you…. It’s been a life-changing year.”
Earlier she had thanked the doctors who performed surgery on her damaged vocal cords, saying they “brought my boice back” after throat problems prompted her to cancel significant chunks of her 2011 tour.
Adele’s blockbuster success with music that reaches broadly across age, racial and stylistic differences made her an ideal candidate for multiple Grammys, handed out annually by the Recording Academy, the music industry organization whose membership includes musicians, producers, engineers, managers, record company officials and others.
Rapper Kanye West leads the nominations with seven and won four: rap song (“All of the Lights”), album (“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”), performance (with Jay-Z for “Otis”) and collaboration (with Rihanna). Presenting the rap performance Grammy, Marc Anthony said the hip-hop kingpins were not able to attend and, with co-presenter Fergie, accepted the statuette for them.
The Foo Fighters and Bruno Mars tied Adele at six nominations, with rapper Lil Wayne and electronica artist Skrillex right behind at five apiece. Skrillex landed a pair for dance recording and dance/electronica album, for the “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” track and album.
The Foo Fighters, who played their nominated song “Walk” outside Staples, learned they won four Grammys before the evening’s ceremony began, during the pre-show awards that cover about 90% of the winners. They took rock album, hard rock or metal performance for the track “White Limo,” rock song for “Walk” and long-form video for “Foo Fighters: Back and Forth” before adding a fifth with the rock song award for “Walk.”
“This is a special record for our band,” singer and lead guitarist Dave Grohl said. ”Rather than go to the best studio in Hollywood … we made this in my garage with a microphone and a tape machine…. This award shows the human element of making music is the most important thing. It’s not about being perfect or sounding absolutely correct. It’s about what goes on in here [gesturing to his chest], not what goes on in a computer.”
British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, another recent pop music tragedy, was given a posthumous Grammy for her duet with Tony Bennett on the pop standard “Body and Soul,” from his “Duets II” album, which took a second award for Bennett as traditional pop vocal album.
“It’s really hard to acept this award,” the musician whose real name is Justin Vernon said when he picked up his statuette. “There’s so much talent out here, on this stage and a lot of talent that’s not here tonight. It’s also hard to accept because when I started to make songs I did it for the inhernet reward of making songs. With that sense of discomfort I also have a sense of gratitude. So thanks to the nominees here, thanks to those who are not here and those who’ll nenver been ehre who never will be here.
In addition to Adele’s first public performance since her surgery, the most anticipated segments going into Sunday night’s show at Staples Center in Los Angeles included a Houston tribute number by former “American Idol” singer Jennifer Hudson, hastily added by the show’s producers. There had been talk that Hudson would be singing with R&B veteran Chaka Khan, but Khan bowed out shortly before showtime, saying in a Twitter post: “As I grieve the loss of my friend and ‘little sister,’ I don’t feel it appropriate to perform at this time.”
On his way into the arena, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said that acknowledging Houston’s death with a special performance felt like the right thing to do.
“We wanted to, in a respectful and appropriate way, acknowledge this great loss, and we wanted to do that early in the program, with a special live performance and remembrances," Portnow said. "But this just happened, and to do it on a large, extravagant scale — in my opinion — is not appropriate. So we've done something heartfelt, humble and appropriate."
After Portnow’s annual acknowledgement of other musicians and record industry figures who died during the past year, Hudson stood on stage with a spotlight overhead and began singing Houston’s hit “I Will Always Love You” without accompaniment. At the end, after the closing repetition of the title phrase, Hudson added “Whitney, we love you.”
Paul McCartney was given the closing musical number, for which he switched from his planned performance of his solo “Band on the Run” track “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” to the Beatles’ benedictory “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” medley from the “Abbey Road” album. It fit the muted mood of the evening, McCartney wistfully singing “Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry” and concluding with the oft-quoted lyric, “And in the end/ The love you take/ Is equal to the love you make.”
The ceremony also included a 50th-anniversary reunion number by the surviving members of the Beach Boys and a salute to country-pop singer and guitarist Glen Campbell, who is winding down his public career because he has Alzheimer’s disease. He was one of several Lifetime Achievement Award honorees this year, along with former Supremes lead singer Diana Ross.
The celebrated but historically drama-racked Southern California surf and sun band was joined by Maroon 5 and Foster the People for a three-song segment that highlighted the signature multi-part harmonies and invitingly melodic music that began with Maroon 5 and “Surfer Girl,” gave “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to the young indie rock group and then brought the original band together for its biggest hit, “Good Vibrations,” which generated a singalong among all three groups and those in the arena.
In other collaborative segments, Coldplay joined with Rihanna, country singer Jason Aldean reprised his hit duet with Kelly Clarkson, ”Don’t You Wanna Stay,” and Bonnie Raitt and Alicia Keys acknowledged Houston’s death leading into their performance of “A Sunday Kind of Love,” their previously planned tribute to R&B-soul-jazz singer Etta James, who died in January at 73. Bennett and country singer Carrie Underwood blended voices on the pop standard “It Had To Be You.” A dance extravanganza near the end of the telecast pooled David Guetta, Chris Brown, deadmau5 and the Foo Fighters.
Brown also collected the R&B album Grammy for his “F.A.M.E.” in the same week a judge ordered him to remain on supervised probation for his assault three years ago on then-girlfriend Rihanna the night beffore the Grammy Awards. “I’m kind of nervous,” he said accepting the award. “Thank God for this and for letting me get up here and do my thing.”
Country trio Lady Antebellum took its second consecutive Grammy for country album, emerging over Aldean, Eric Church, Blake Shelton, George Strait and Taylor Swift.
The week leading to Sunday night was packed with a host of music industry-related events. McCartney received his own star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame on Tuesday and was feted Friday night as the 2012 MusiCares Person of the Year with an all-star tribute concert. Campbell gave a special performance at the Grammy Museum as part of his farewell tour.
Saturday brought the Clive Davis event and the week included protests by musicians unhappy with last year’s category restructuring that reduced the overall number to 78 this year, down from a peak of 110, eliminating many areas in which jazz, R&B, country, gospel and other roots music recordings had been nominated for niche styles in previous years.
More than 17,500 recordings were submitted during the eligibility period for this year’s Grammy Awards, Oct. 1, 2010, to Sept. 30, 2011. Winners are the results of ballots cast by about 13,000 voting members of the Recording Academy.