The 50th Annual Grammy Awards

Kanye, Winehouse win gold on music's big night

by Guy Dixon
Toronto Globe and Mail
February 11, 2008

Joni Mitchell, Michael Bublé pick up early awards, but Canadians mostly shut out; jazz great Herbie Hancock gets album of the year

Legendary Joni Mitchell, her collaborator Herbie Hancock and Vancouver crooner Michael Bublé were among the winners at the 50th Grammy Awards yesterday, although the night was owned by Amy Winehouse, who wasn't actually at the Los Angeles spectacle, but performed from London.

The immensely talented British retro-soul singer, whose substance abuse and tabloid troubles prevented her from getting a visa to the United States in time for the broadcast, gave by far the best performance of the night, defiantly singing her hit Rehab in an intimate London venue.

She continued to rack up trophies yesterday including song of the year and record of the year for Rehab and for best new artist, for which she beat critically acclaimed Canadian Leslie Feist. In her via-satellite thank-you, Ms. Winehouse, who seemed beyond stunned under her beehive hairdo, her saucer-wide eyes encircled by her usual wildly excessive eyeliner, looked healthy and gave her thanks with verve to the highly appreciative local audience.

Feist, whose nicely quiet performance last night was equally idiosyncratic compared to the usual Grammy bluster, really doesn't need the added push of a Grammy award to maintain her momentum. Nevertheless, she lost in the other two categories she was nominated in - best female pop vocal performance and best pop vocal album - which went to Ms. Winehouse.

Ms. Mitchell, who has come out of her seclusion recently with new recordings and public appearances, beat an unusual cross-section of acts from the Beastie Boys to jazz fusionist Spryo Gyra [sic], to take home best pop instrumental performance for the song One Week Last Summer from her album Shine. Herbie Hancock won both album of the year and best contemporary jazz album with his tribute disc to Ms. Mitchell River: The Joni Letters.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bublé carried best traditional pop vocal album with Call Me Irresponsible, in a category which also included James Taylor and Barbra Streisand, while classic rock's roots standard bearer the Band received a lifetime achievement award.

Besides the strange waiting game throughout the night for Ms. Winehouse's performance from London, the Grammys otherwise relied on many of the same performers who seem to show up year after year. Grammy habitué Kanye West, for one, continued to collect awards last night, including best rap album for Graduation. As expected, he turned a portion of his dynamic performance into a tribute to his mother, who recently died of complications from cosmetic surgery. Despite his penchant for outspokenness at awards shows, resulting in a number of jokes last night at his expense from on-stage presenters, he turned the crowd in his favour when he persuaded the show's director to cut off the background music when his speech about his mom started running long.

For most of the night, the Grammys seemed hell-bent on avoiding new music, imploring us to go back and re-listen to past music as old songs and older acts continued to make their way across the stage. From the opening duet between R&B singer Alicia Keys and an old video of Frank Sinatra, and a Cirque du Soleil visual spectacular set to The Beatles' A Day in the Life, the only way to get a true sense of the year in music was to drill through the list of the winners and losers in the numerous non-televised categories.

Among the checklist of Canadians, Nelly Furtado was also shut out in her three categories, which included best female pop vocal performance, another of Ms. Winehouse's wins. Montreal troubadours Arcade Fire's Neon Bible lost in the best alternative music album category to Icky Thump by the White Stripes.

Violinist James Ehnes, of Brandon, Man., a major name among the classical cognoscenti, and conductor Bramwell Tovey of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra won best instrumental soloist performance with orchestra for CBC Records' Barner/Korngold/Walton: Violin Concertos. This was no mean feat as Mr. Ehnes was up against such heavy contenders as the Deutsche Grammophon disc of Beethoven piano concertos with the Orchestre de Paris and superstar pianist Lang Lang (who performed a duelling-piano version of Rhapsody in Blue with Mr. Hancock during the broadcast).

Meanwhile, Barack Obama, perhaps not the first person you might associate with the Grammys, won the best spoken word Grammy for the audio version The Audacity of Hope, beating Democratic rival Hillary Clinton's spouse, Bill, who was also nominated for an audio book.

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