The 54th annual Grammy Awards were held on Sunday night in the shadow of the death of musical great Whitney Houston. Performers and presenters gave tributes to Houston between celebrations of this year’s winners. As Chris Richards reported:
Whitney Houston’s unexpected death on the eve of Sunday’s 54th Annual Grammy Awards turned the music industry’s biggest night into a tone-dizzy exercise in grief, joy and show-must-go-on gusto.
Even as the show was rolling on, details of Houston’s death were emerging — how she was found in the hotel room bathtub, how friends had tried to revive her before paramedics arrived. Grim video footage of the singer’s body being removed on a stretcher played on the local news.
So this year’s Grammy awards suddenly became a chance to memorialize a voice that once embodied the excellence the awards claim to celebrate. Instead, viewers endured a ceremony riddled with disjointed collaborations that spanned genres and generations for the sake of . . . what, exactly?
Certainly not for the sake of rallying around Houston’s legacy. A six-time Grammy winner herself, Houston’s influence on the past 25 years of popular music can’t be overstated. Her dazzling vocal abilities changed the way we think about singing, making it nearly impossible to imagine what Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Boyz II Men, Mary J. Blige, Beyonce — let alone “American Idol” — would sound like without her imprint.
Jennifer Hudson was the only Grammy performer to pay tribute to Houston in song, and she did it with a quick, stately rendition of Houston’s signature hit “I Will Always Love You.” It was the evening’s most coherent performance, but it wasn’t enough to make the entire night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles not feel like a missed opportunity.
The awards themselves had a sense of clarity thanks to Adele, the 23-year-old British soul phenom who swept all six categories she was nominated for, including album of the year for her sophomore smash “21.”
Which performers rose above the rest at Sunday night’s Grammys? David Malitz separated the best from the worst performances, Here is a selection:
Adele: Everything we could have hoped for. Well, that’s not exactly true. A second song would have been nice.
Rihanna: “We Found Love” — this song is as irresistible as it is inescapable, and Rihanna made it come to vibrant life.
Bruno Mars: He’s no James Brown, but it’s not for lack of effort. All those fleet-footed moves and that pompadour still didn’t move.
Alicia Keys & Bonnie Raitt: With tributes, you want tender and classy. These two personify those qualities, and their version of Etta James’s “Sunday Kind of Love” was just that.
Foo Fighters: Despite plenty of energetic head-banging, hand-clapping and Slayer T-shirt wearing from frontman Dave Grohl, this performance still felt perfunctory.
Chris Brown: Lots of gyrating, thrusting, jumping, flipping and even more lip-synching. At least he didn’t get the standing ovation he seemed to be expecting.
Coldplay: Sometimes Coldplay gets a bad rap for being a boring band. They earned that rap tonight, though.
The awards show was a disappointment to many of the artists with ties to the D.C. area, as most lost in their respective categories. As Chris Richards reported:
How did local artists fare at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards? Lousy, unless your name was Dave Grohl.
Other artists registered with the Washington chapter of the Recording Academy, however, were completely shut out.
Local gospel singer Richard Smallwood lost Best Gospel Song for “Trust Me” to Kirk Franklin for “Hello Fear.” Christopher C. King, producer of “The Bristol Sessions, 1927-1928: The Big Bang of Country Music,” lost for Best Historical Album to a reissue of Wings’s “Band on the Run.” Violinist Jenny Oaks Baker’s “Wish Upon a Star” lost Best Pop Instrumental Album to Booker T. Jones’s “The Road From Memphis.” And J. Viewz, the Israeli-born, Brooklyn-based producer, is a Washington chapter member, and lost for Best Recording Package for his album “Rivers and Homes” to “Scenes From the Suburbs,” the deluxe edition of Arcade Fire’s 2011 Album of the Year-winning “The Suburbs.”
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