By The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Grammys got under way on Sunday, with the Recording Academy trying to focus on music’s biggest night after of the death of one of music’s biggest names – Whitney Houston.
Houston died on the eve of the Grammys at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where she was preparing to attend a pre-Grammy party. Her death cast a huge shadow over the event. As the pre-telecast awards ceremony began, co-host Dave Koz acknowledged the tragedy, noting the “great legacy of Miss Whitney Houston. She’s in our hearts and our minds.”
Presenter Jimmy Jam, a friend and producer of Houston’s, said it’s “a bittersweet occasion tonight with the passing of Whitney.”
“Anytime someone passes away, the thing you do is you gather your family together, tell stories,” he said. “A little bit of mourning, little bit of celebrating – this is our family tonight and we’re going to do it the best that we can do it.”
Melanie Fiona, who won best traditional R&B vocal performance and best R&B song with Cee-Lo for the song “Fool for You,” also gave tribute to the fallen star: “Whitney Houston I would not be standing up here if it were not for you, thank you so much.”
A moving moment came when Tony Bennett won his second Grammy of the evening, best pop performance by a duo/group, for his collaboration with Amy Winehouse, “Body and Soul.” Winehouse, another supremely talented singer who had a long struggle with drugs and alcohol, died last year.
Bennett, who also won for the album “Duets II,” brought both her parents, Mitch and Janis Winehouse, onstage to accept the award.
“We shouldn’t be here, our darling daughter should be here. These are the cards that we’re dealt,” Mitch Winehouse said. “We miss our daughter so much.”
Winehouse also referenced the deaths of Houston and Etta James, saying: “There’s a beautiful girl band up there in heaven.”
When it came to the business of awarding trophies, the Foo Fighters were the top winners in the pre-telecast ceremony, taking four out of their possible six trophies, including best rock album for “Wasting Light” (the album is also up for album of the year).
“This is a very great honor because this album was the most fun we’ve ever had making a record,” said frontman Dave Grohl. “I asked my wife if it was OK to use my garage… This represents the human element of music.”
Kanye West and dance/electronica DJ Skrillex won three each. Adele captured two of her six possible Grammys, including best pop vocal album for “21,” while Taylor Swift also won two trophies for her rebuke to her critics, “Mean.” The folk-country duo The Civil Wars also won two.
Before the death of one of pop music’s most important figures, the pre-Grammy buzz focused on whether Adele – 2011′s top-selling artist and set to make her first public performance on the show since having vocal cord surgery – would be the queen of the Grammys. Although Kanye West led all nominees with seven and Bruno Mars and the Foo Fighters tied Adele with six nominations, she was favored to sweep all of her categories.
But as show time neared, the focus remained on Houston’s death. A tribute to Houston featuring Jennifer Hudson was to take place during the main ceremony.
Grammy show producer Ken Ehrlich said Houston’s death was “too fresh in everyone’s memory to do more at this time, but we would be remiss if we didn’t recognize Whitney’s remarkable contribution to music fans in general, and in particular her close ties with the Grammy telecast and her Grammy wins and nominations over the years.”
More Houston tributes from nominees and presenters are expected during the three-and-a-half hour Staples Center show, which was to feature the Foo Fighters, Mars, Nicki Minaj, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Swift, Chris Brown and Rihanna.
On the red carpet, R&B singer Ledisi burst into an impromptu rendition of Houston’s “How Will I Know.” Bonnie Raitt said, “I’m glad we’re all together to grieve together.”
The show will mark the first time Rihanna and Brown have appeared at the same awards show since his attack on her three years ago – also on the eve of the Grammys – forced both to drop out of the show and led to an assault conviction for Brown. It almost derailed his career, but 2011 marked a huge comeback, and he was rewarded with a Grammy performance slot on Sunday night’s CBS broadcast.
Rihanna is also a nominee, up for album of the year. She is competing with Adele’s “21,” Mars’ “Doo-Woops & Hooligans,” the Foo Fighters’ “Wasting Light” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”
Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” is nominated for record and song of the year. Both categories also include Bon Iver’s “Holocene,” Mumford & Sons “The Cave,” and Mars’ “Grenade.” Katy Perry’s “Firework” is up for record of the year but instead of that song, West’s “All of the Lights” takes the remaining position in the song of the year category.
The ceremony also marks the first since a major overhaul of the categories last year: They were trimmed from 109 to 78. The move upset some musicians, and a protest was planned outside of the Staples Center on Sunday.