She could have had it all, and she did. To no one’s surprise, the English soul traditionalist Adele prevailed in every way possible at the 54th Grammy Awards, winning in all six categories for which she was nominated and returning victorious to the stage, where her stirring rendition of Rolling in the Deep was her first performance since throat surgery.
Adele’s dominance was the feel-good story for a ceremony that threatened to be overwhelmed by the death on Saturday of Whitney Houston. “There’s no way around this,” said LL Cool J, host of the event. “We’ve had a death in the family.” The task of the hip-hop star, and of the production as a whole, was to recognize the passing of Houston, a six-time Grammy winner, while offering the celebration of music for which the event is known.
The telecast began with a rousing performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band of their new single We Take Care of Our Own, a positive comment on the American working class that also recognized the musical community that counted Houston as one of its own.
Despite a prayer by LL Cool J that followed, there was a respectful determination to keep the proceedings as upbeat as possible. Nevertheless, the evening’s highlight was Jennifer Hudson’s poignant performance of I Will Always Love You, a tribute to Houston, which saw the 30-year-old Grammy-winner and Dreamgirls actress fight and win to keep her own composure.
Adele defeated all comers, including the pop provocateur Lady Gaga, the sexy hit-maker Rihanna, pop/R&B wonderboy Bruno Mars, critical alt-folk darling Bon Iver and rock survivors Foo Fighters. She captured golden gramophones for the year’s top record and best song ( Rolling in the Deep), best album and pop vocal ( 21), top pop solo performance ( Someone Like You) and best short video.
A video screening of Houston’s performance of I Will Always Love You at the Grammys in 1994 drew a standing ovation. But it was Mars, resplendent in gold lamé and full pompadour, who excited with his retro-styled R&B number Runaway Baby.
Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt performed a soulful acoustic version of Sunday Kind of Love, a tribute to another troubled diva who recently died, Etta James. Keys prefaced the duet with: “We love Whitney Houston.”
Other winners included Jay-Z and Kanye West (who were not on hand to accept their trophy for best rap performance for the single Otis), Chris Brown (for F.A.M.E., top R&B album) and Foo Fighters, victors for best rock performance and four other awards. Lady Antebellum won for top country album, while Bon Iver was voted best new artist.
Paul McCartney, the MusiCares person of the year, sang out the evening with Golden Slumbers and Carry That Weight, followed by a jam session that included Springsteen, Dave Grohl and Joe Walsh. McCartney concluded the broadcast with another Abbey Road number, The End.