NEKESA MUMBI MOODY, AP Music Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Adele, who captured the world’s heart with an album about a broken romance, emerged as the top winner at the Grammy Awards, winning six trophies including the prestigious trifecta of record, song and album of the year.
The British singer, who also made a triumphant comeback from vocal cord surgery on the Grammy stage Sunday, sobbed as she won the night’s final award, album of the year, for “21.” It was last year’s top-selling album with more than six million copies sold and remains lodged at the No. 1 spot on this year’s charts. Her victories tied her with Beyonce as the most wins by a woman in one evening.
The celebration of Adele, a big-voiced, soulful singer, came on a night where the Grammys marked the loss of one of music’s great female voices — and one of its most prized talents overall. Whitney Houston died the night before the Grammys, casting a shadow over music’s biggest night.
But while her death lent a somber overtone to the evening’s show, it did not overwhelm it, perhaps best proved by the show’s closing number, a rollicking jam session featuring Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Dave Grohl among others.
The evening’s most moving moment came as Jennifer Hudson — who has called Houston an inspiration and one of her biggest idols — emerged to sing one of Houston’s signature songs, “I Will Always Love You.” Dressed in black, with only the accompaniment of a piano, Hudson appeared to fight back tears as she sang the song, ending with the line, “Whitney, we will always love you.”
The show started off on a somber note, as host LL Cool J appeared in black, and told the audience: “There is no way around this. We’ve had a death in our family.”
He then led the audience in prayer to “our fallen sister.”
“Heavenly father, we thank you for sharing our sister Whitney with us,” he said, as celebrities like Lady Gaga and Miranda Lambert bowed their heads in prayer. “Though she is gone too soon, we remain truly blessed to have been touched by her beautiful spirit.”
He then introduced a clip of a glowing Houston singing “I Will Always Love You.” In his performance of “Runaway Baby,” Bruno Mars also mentioned the death: “Tonight we’re celebrating. Tonight we’re celebrating the beautiful Miss Whitney Houston.”
And Stevie Wonder said: “To Whitney up in heaven, we all love you.”
The night’s other big winners were Grohl’s Foo Fighters, who won five Grammys. They noted that they made their album “Wasting Light” in a garage.
“To me this award means a lot because it shows that the human element of making music is what’s most important. Singing into a microphone, learning to play an instrument and learning to do your craft, that’s the most important thing for people to do,” Grohl said as the band accepted their best rock performance trophy for “Walk.” ‘’It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about sounding absolutely correct. It’s not about what goes on in a computer. It’s about what goes on in here (your heart) and what goes on here (your head). … Long live rock ‘n’ roll!”
Among the evening’s performances was a dance-heavy number by Chris Brown, and performances by McCartney and Springsteen, who kicked off the show by performing his new song “We Take Care of Our Own,” a rousing song that references the troubles of the nation.
The show, as usual, was heavy on performances more than awards. Among those was Chris Brown, who was performing on the stage for the first time since he dropped out of 2009’s broadcast; his attack on Rihanna the night before led to both of their absences, an assault charge for Brown and a career low.
But 2011 marked an amazing comeback for Brown and he was rewarded with two planned performances during the show, the first time he and Rihanna performed at the same event since the attack (she sang solo and with Coldplay during the ceremony).
Justin Vernon, whose band Bon Iver beat Nicki Minaj, The Band Perry, J. Cole and Skrillex for best new artist, accepted the award with admittedly mixed emotions.
“It’s really hard to accept this award … There’s a lot of talent that’s not here tonight. It’s also hard to accept because 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.
The Grammys did their best to keep a tone that balanced the many moods of the night: The Foo Fighters performed in a tent outside the Staples Center, where the awards were being held, amid a throng of bouncing fans; but moments earlier, Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt paid tribute to Etta James, the legend who died last month.
There was also a tribute to the recently reunited Beach Boys that featured Maroon 5, Foster the People and Mike Love, Al Jardine and Brian Wilson, the three remaining members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, all pitch-perfect as they brought the groups California rock sound and harmonies back to life.
Glen Campbell, who announced his retirement last year after disclosing he had Alzheimer’s disease, also performed with The Band Perry and Blake Shelton, singing his classic hit, “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
The Foos and Brown also returned for another dance-themed performance, a first for the Grammys. It also featured deadmau5, David Guetta and Lil Wayne.
And with Lady Gaga not performing, Minaj stepped in to give the night’s most bizarre/headscratching performance. The rapper-singer’s number included a clip that referenced “The Exorcist” and a stage show that had her levitating on stage amid a church-like background, with hooded choir members and religious imagery.
The ceremony marked the first since a major overhaul of the categories last year: They were trimmed from 109 to 78. The move upset several musicians, and a group of Latin jazz musicians protested the elimination of their category outside arena.
In one of the new categories, Rebirth Brass Band won the best regional roots music award for “Rebirth of New Orleans.”
Saharan desert rockers Tinariwen won the newly-combined best world music album award, which had been previously been divided into traditional and contemporary categories.
Mexican rockers Mana won for best Latin pop, rock or urban album, another new category. Cachao, the Cuban mambo pioneer who died in 2008, won best tropical Latin album.
Stephen Marley, son of Bob Marley, won for best reggae album.
When Tony Bennett won for best pop performance by a duo or group for his duet with Amy Winehouse, he invited the late singer’s parents to join him on stage during the awards ceremony’s pre-show segment.
“We shouldn’t be here. Our darling daughter should be here,” Winehouse’s father, Mitch, said after he and the singer’s mother, Janis, had embraced Bennett.
Mitch Winehouse also noted Houston’s death Saturday and the recent passing of James.
“What can I say?” he said. “There’s a beautiful girl band up in heaven.”
Nekesa Mumbi Moody is the AP’s Music Editor. Follow her at http://www.twitter.com/nekesamumbi