The singer made her post-surgery comeback by winning all six of her nominations at the 2012 Grammy Awards, topping the ceremony with Album of the Year for "21" and taking home both Song and Record of the Year for "Rolling in the Deep." She teared up as she took the stage for the final award, crediting the album's inspiration to a "rubbish relationship."
The first award of the broadcast, Best Pop Solo Performance, went to the Brit's "Someone Like You," the singer's second win of the evening. "21" picked up Best Pop Vocal Album during the afternoon pre-telecast portion of the awards, while her "Rolling in the Deep" producer Paul Epworth picked up Producer of the Year.
"My life changed when I wrote this song, before anyone even heard it," she said, looking into the crowd for "Someone Like You" co-writer Dan Wilson.
"Since this is a vocal award, I want to thank my doctors, they brought my voice back," she added, showing no signs of the strain that caused her to undergo vocal cord surgery.
If there were any lingering doubts about her recovery, Adele opened her performance of "Rolling in the Deep" a cappella, showcasing the instrument that made her "21" 2011's best-selling album. She drew the night's longest round of applause as the audience took its feet.
Beyond Adele's success, it was a night full of celebrations and tributes, with the sudden passing of Whitney Houston adding a sober note to the enthusiastic show.
Bruce Springsteen opened the evening with a high-energy performance of "We Take Care of Our Own," the politically charged new single from his upcoming album "Wrecking Ball". The performance, aided by a string section, had Paul McCartney clapping along.
And Bruno Mars, a six-time nominee, lit up the stage with a gold jacket and choreographed dance moves.
"Get off your rich asses and let's have some fun, y'all!" he shouted during his performance.
In between the exuberance, the show addressed the death of Houston, who died just a day before the ceremony at age 48.
"We've had a death in our family," host LL Cool J said moments after he took the stage. "For me, the only thing that feels right is to open with a prayer… Heavenly father, we thank you for sharing our sister Whitney with us," he said, drawing bowed heads among the audience's array of stars.
Video of Houston's Grammy performance of signature hit "I Will Always Love You" followed, as did a standing ovation.
Shortly thereafter, Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt, performing as a duo, paid tribute to another loss, jazz great Etta James.
The performances also included a notable return. Three years after his assault of then-girlfriend Rihanna caused both to miss the ceremony, Chris Brown made his Grammy comeback with the electronic-inspired "Turn Up the Music," showcasing his dance moves atop a shimmering tower of brightly colored blocks.
Later, Brown's "F.A.M.E." won Best R&B Album. He kept his speech short: "I just gotta thank God for this opportunity, and the Grammys for letting me get on this stage… Team Breezy, man, it's all for you, we all won. Thank you."
In one of the evening's most anticipated performances, the Beach Boys reunited for their 50th anniversary -- preceded by tributes by Maroon 5, who took on the '60s band's "Surfer Girl," and "Pumped Up Kicks" singers Foster the People, who turned in a faithful version of "Wouldn't It Be Nice."
After an introduction by Ryan Seacrest, the Beach Boys themselves launched into "Good Vibrations," with Brian Wilson at the piano and singing lead on the legendary song. Mark Foster and Maroon 5's Adam Levine joined the group after the bridge to add to the plethora of harmonies.
In a night full of homages, one of the most emotive came in praise of Glen Campbell, the country legend now suffering from Alzheimer's. He released "Ghost on the Canvas," intended to be his final album, last year. The Band Perry and Blake Shelton each laid down Campbell classics before the man himself took the stage for his signature song, "Rhinestone Cowboy" -- in one of his trademark jackets. He punctuated the song's verses with shouts of "Thank you!" and "Oh yeah!", looking confident and happy to be on stage.
Finally, Houston got her musical due. Jennifer Hudson, alone under a spotlight and an image of Houston, offered a simple, stunning version of "I Will Always Love You" that drew cheers even from the press room. As she sang, Houston's image was joined by the other faces of the "In Memoriam" montage.
Tony Bennett made another strong case for the veterans, singing "It Had to Be You" with a smiling Carrie Underwood before the two announced the Best New Artist winner.
Bon Iver won the tight category, besting Skrillex and Nicki Minaj, among others.
"It's really hard to accept this award," the band's Justin Vernon said. "But there's so much talent out here, like on this stage, and a lot of talent that's not here tonight.
"When I started to make songs, I did it for the inherent reward of making songs, so I'm a little bit uncomfortable up here," he said, before thanking the voters for the "sweet hook-up."
Before the broadcast, he took the stage for his win for Best Alternative Album.
"Thank you, thanks to all the nominees, non-nominees for this category, it feels pretty special," he said, in contrast to his ambivalent past remarks about the Grammys. He closed by name-dropping his label, the Bloomington, Ind., indie Jagjaguwar.
Among the other awards, a rock mainstay, a hip-hop heavyweight and an electronic newcomer were among the big winners on Sunday night.
The Foo Fighters made a clean sweep of the rock categories, scoring victories for Best Rock Performance, Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance, Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Album for "Wasting Light." The band's "Back and Forth" also won Best Long Form Music Video.
"This record was a special record for our band," frontman Dave Grohl said. "We made this one in my garage with some microphones and a tape machine… Singing into a microphone and playing an instrument and learning to do your craft is the most important thing for people to do. It's not about being perfect, it's not about what goes on in a computer."
As he was played off by an electro beat, he shouted, "Long live rock 'n' roll!"
And in a similarly dominant run, Kanye West and Jay-Z's "Otis," won Best Rap Performance in the first hip-hop award of the broadcast -- the fourth award of the day for West, who was a no-show at the ceremony, despite leading the nominations with seven. During the pre-show, he picked up Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "All of the Lights" and Best Rap Album for that track's source, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."
Dubstep DJ Skrillex made an early mark at the Grammy awards, picking up three awards during the afternoon pre-telecast segment. The musician, a Best New Artist nominee this year's awards, started the day by winning Best Remix Recording for his take on Benny Bennassi's "Cinema."
"Just a year and a half ago I was making that song in my bedroom," he said from the stage. "I was living in an illegal warehouse space in downtown L.A.
"I think it's awesome that we're all getting recognized this year," he said of the electronic dance music community that's risen to mainstream popularity in recent months. "Justice, 'Cross,' should've won a Grammy, Daft Punk -- but this is going to open doors for everyone."
At this year's awards, Skrillex opened his own doors, adding Best Dance Recording and Dance/Electronic Album to his collection.
The influence of electronic dance was one of the sonic stories of the evening, with the thump of house beats announcing their position on the Grammy stage in performances by Brown as well as Rihanna. Thousands in the audience were handed glowing bracelets for Rihanna and Coldplay's performance, which segued from the Bahamian diva's Calvin Harris-produced "We Found Love" to their joint hit "Princess of China." And the genre continued its neon invasion with a glow stick-filled superstar performance later in the show that teamed up Brown, DJ David Guetta and Lil Wayne before seguing to the Foo Fighters and Deadmau5.
To open the afternoon segment, which streamed online at Grammy.com, the Larry Batiste Orchestra and show co-host Dave Koz hit the stage with some breezy Latin jazz. The sax player returned to the stage with MC Lyte for a performance of 1996's "Cold Rock a Party" -- the song preceded the duo's hosting duties for the Grammys' afternoon segment.
"We would both like to acknowledge the legacy of Miss Whitney Houston," Koz said in his opening remarks, the first tribute in a night full of them for the iconic singer.
She earned another nod from Amy Winehouse's father, Mitch, who gave an emotional speech after his late daughter and Tony Bennett won the award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Body and Soul."
"Tony's collaboration meant so much to her and she was so excited about 'Body and Soul' because it was my favorite song," Mitch said, as his wife, Janis, and Bennett looked on. "So that was a beautiful moment. Love live Whitney Houston. Long live Amy Winehouse. Long live Etta James. There's a beautiful girl band up there in heaven."
The awards included many for Grammy mainstays: Tony Bennett earned his fifteenth and sixteenth Grammys for the "Body and Soul" nod and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for "Duets II."
"Isn't that wonderful?" Bennett said. "It's the first album i've ever had that went to No. 1 in Billboard and it's selling all over the world… and it's an amazing wonderful experience."
Alison Krauss and Union Station's "Paper Planes" was honored twice, in the Best Bluegrass Album and Best Engineering, Non-Classical categories. The former award was Krauss' 27th Grammy.
And Taylor Swift, a past Album of the Year winner, took home two country awards during the pre-show.
"This one means a lot to me because it's [for] a song called 'Mean,' and there's nothing like writing a song about someone who's mean to you and makes your life completely miserable and winning a Grammy for it," Swift smiled, drawing laughs and applause from the crowd. Swift and the song won both Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance.
She played the song with a band big enough to fill out an orchestra. But the spotlight was on Swift alone as she led the crowd in clapping, editing a lyric to "Someday, I'll be singing this at the Grammys."
The winners also saw honors for a number of prominent newcomers. Beyond Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, who surprised many with last year's Album of the Year win, picked up an award during the afternoon pre-show for Best Recording Package, for the "Scenes From the Suburbs" DVD/CD deluxe edition. Self-described "word of mouth" duo the Civil Wars picked up two awards, for Best Country Duo/Group Performance and Best Folk Album for their debut, "Barton Hollow."
And in one early upset, comedian Louis CK won his first award for Best Comedy Album, beating perennial Grammy favorite "Weird" Al Yankovic.
Among the classic rock contingent, Paul McCartney picked up Best Historical Album for the reissue of "Band on the Run," while Bruce Springsteen's "The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story" earned Best Box or Special Limited Edition Package.
Kirk Franklin was the night's first two-trophy winner, taking home Best Gospel Album and Best Gospel Song before Skrillex's multiple wins.
While Houston was on the minds of many Grammy participants, she and Winehouse weren't the only late artists whose shadow fell upon the ceremony. Cachoa, who passed at 89 just months after completing "The Last Mambo", drew a heartfelt tribute from his collaborators for his win in the Best Tropical Latin Album Category.
Paul McCartney returned to the stage at ceremony's end to wrap things up, joined by Springsteen, Grohl and others for a fiery Beatles medley. The rocker closed with "The End," a fitting conclusion to a show that spent much of its three-and-a-half hours looking to the past.