Alicia Keys “dueted” with a vintage performance by Frank Sinatra of “Learnin’ the Blues” to kick off the 50th annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, but the real magic came from leading nominees Amy Winehouse and Kanye West.
Winehouse led the field with five wins, while West scored four. But both were shut out of the album of the year Grammy, which unexpectedly went to Herbie Hancock’s Joni Mitchell covers album, “River: The Joni Letters,” in the biggest upset of the night.
Winehouse, who was nominated for six Grammys, won best new artist and song of the year for “Rehab.” The artist’s performance via satellite from London was the most anticipated of the evening, and she did not disappoint, belting out “You Know I’m No Good” and “Rehab” in her trademark beehive hairdo and high heels.
Immediately afterward, she won record of the year for “Rehab,” breaking down in tears as she was mobbed by members of her backing band and her family.
Winehouse has been plagued by substance abuse issues in recent weeks, for which she entered rehab. Her visa to attend the Grammys in person was initially denied by the American embassy in London, who reversed their decision late last week, but not in time for Winehouse to make it to Los Angeles.
West, who led the field with eight nominations, won four Grammys, including best rap album for “Graduation.” “A lot of people said hip-hop is dead,” he said. “The art form wasn’t popping like that anymore. I wanted to cross the genres and show people we can still express ourselves with something fresh and new.”
Music’s biggest night got underway as Keys sang and played piano along with the performance by Sinatra, who appeared in black and white on a video screen, a pairing reminiscent of Natalie Cole’s “duet” with her late father, Nat King Cole. “Here’s to the next 50 years,” Keys told the crowd afterward, introducing a performance of “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood.
Within minutes, Keys was back on stage to accept the best female R&B performance Grammy for “No One” from Prince. The song won best R&B song during the pre-telecast. Other multiple winners included Bruce Springsteen and the Clark Sisters with three, and Carrie Underwood and Justin Timberlake with two.
An early highlight was a reunion performance by pop/funk outfit the Time, who performed their 1984 hit “Jungle Love.” The group was then joined by Rihanna for a medley of her pop smashes “Umbrella” and “Don’t Stop the Music.” “Umbrella,” which features Jay-Z, took home the best rap/sung collaboration Grammy, Rihanna’s first.
West performed “Stronger” with help from Daft Punk, who he samples in the track, and then shifted into a heartfelt, sung tribute to his mother Donda, who died suddenly last fall. Tina Turner and Beyonce teamed for a glitzy segment, culminating in a duet on “Proud Mary,” while the Foo Fighters were accompanied by the fan-voted My Grammy Moment contest winner, violinist Ann Marie Calhoun, on “The Pretender.”
The Foos then won best rock album for “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace,” which features “The Pretender.” “This doesn’t get old. You know that, right?,” said frontman Dave Grohl as he accepted.
The Beatles’ “Love,” which served as the soundtrack to a Cirque du Soleil production in Las Vegas, won best compilation soundtrack album for motion picture, television or other visual media. The award was accepted by surviving Beatle Ringo Starr and original Beatles engineer Sir George Martin, who created the “Love” music with his son Giles.
Starr and Eurythmics principal Dave Stewart bestowed the best country album Grammy to Vince Gill’s “These Days,” a four-disc project which is also nominated for album of the year. “I just had an award given to me by a Beatle! Have you had that happen to you yet, Kanye?,” Gill joked.
Burt Bacharach, the Band, Cab Calloway, Doris Day, Itzhak Perlman, Max Roach and Earl Scruggs all received Lifetime Achievement Grammys.
For live blogging from the Grammy Red Carpet, visit Billboard’s Mobile Beat blog.