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Hancock Award Provides Bang For Grammys

Of the Oakland Press

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You can't say the 50th Annual Grammy Awards didn't end with a bang on Sunday (Feb. 10).

After three and a half hours, music's purported biggest night saved its biggest surprise for the final award -- when Herbie Hancock's jazz tribute to Joni Mitchell, "River: The Joni Letters," was named Album of the Year, upsetting favored entries by Kanye West ("Graduation") and Amy Winehouse ("Back to Black").

How unexpected was it? Producer Quincy Jones, who co-presented the award with Usher, was heard exclaiming "Unbelievable!" as a visibly stunned Hancock made his way to the podium. And although he dropped his speech, Hancock composed himself and offered gentlemanly remarks that also paid tribute to forebears such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis, who had never won Grammy's most prestigious honor.

Until that point, the night's biggest surprise was Winehouse, who took home five of the six Grammys for which she was nominated -- including the other three major awards, Song and Record of the Year and Best New Artist. Unable to get a visa to attend the ceremony in Los Angeles due to drug issues and her recent stint in rehab, Winehouse performed via satellite from London and seemed shellshocked to be singing at all, much less winning awards.

Some other impressions from Grammy night:

Condescending Kanye: After a dynamic performance that honored his late mother and a win in the Best Rap Album category, West declared the Grammys "our place of residence" and told Winehouse producer Mark Ronson, who took home Producer of the Year honors, that "if I don't get up here for Album of the Year, you deserve it as much as me. But I deserve it." There's nothing like grace and class on awards night.

Cutting Kanye: Kudos to Vince Gill and Usher, who leveled West during their Grammy moments. Accepting the Best Country Album trophy from Ringo Starr, Gill remarked that, "I just got an award given to me by a Beatle. Have you had that happen to you yet, Kanye?" And before presenting Album of the Year with Jones, Usher announced that "There are no losers in this category -- Kanye." Everybody yucked it up, but there was a point to be made there.

No Host, Not The Most: The Grammys went host-less for its 50th anniversary and missed something. The show moved along speedily enough, but it was definitely missing some personality and flow that a good emcee can provide -- good, of course, being the operative term.

Five Performances To Find On YouTube: Tina Turner with Beyonce on "Proud Mary;" Alicia Keys' "No One," with John Mayer playing the guitar solo; John Fogerty, Jerry Lee Lewis (looking like Jabba the Killer) and Little Richard rocking hard toward the end of the show; West's high-tech version of "Stronger" with Daft Punk;" and the Detroit-centric gospel segment with Aretha Franklin, the Clark Sisters and BeBe Winans, among others.

We Wish They'd Turned Us On: The Beatles salute featuring Cirque du Soleil's "LOVE" depiction of "A Day in the Life" fell flat away from its home turf in Las Vegas, and even an emotive "Let It Be" didn't salvage the segment.

We Wanted More Of...: The Time, who reunited for Sunday's show but spent more time backing up Rihanna than playing the significantly hotter "Jungle Love."

Good Sport Award: Goes to Clarkston's Kid Rock, a late add who was appropriately restrained and deferential to his duet partner, the slightly disoriented Keely Smith. Runner up was the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am, whose rap-styled medley of previous Grammy winners sounded like show producers threw him on just to fill some time.

Early Pick For 2009: Previous Best New Artist Cyndi Lauper told co-presenter and "Hannah Montana" star Miley Cyrus that she'll be on the receiving end of that trophy next year. Get in line for your tickets now...

Don't Forget The Motor City: With three Grammy Awards, the gospel trio the Clark Sisters led the Detroit area's contingent of winners on Sunday. The Clarks won Best Traditional Gospel Album for ''Live -- One Last Time'' and shared Best Gospel Performance -- with fellow Detroiter Aretha Franklin -- for the song ''Blessed & Highly Favored,'' while group member Karen Clark-Sheard won the Best Gospel Song trophy for ''Blessed & Highly Favored.'' Fred Hammond, meanwhile, took the Best Contemporary R&B Gospel Album for ''Free to Worship.''The Detroit-formed rock duo the White Stripes won two Grammys, Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocals and Best Alternative Music Album, both for ''Icky Thump.''

Web Site: www.grammy.com

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