British siren Adele brought shine to a Grammys show shadowed by the death of one of pop’s great voices.
Consider it a passing of the torch.
Adele, 23, was crowned the new queen of pop at Sunday's Grammys, just one day after the death of Whitney Houston, 48, the greatest pop and soul voice of her generation. The British pop-soul thrush collected every trophy for which she was nominated -- six.
That's the most Grammys snared in one night by a solo artist since Amy Winehouse's five in 2007. Sadly, Winehouse died last year. But the Grammys tried to do their best to not let Sunday's 3 1/2-hour program turn into a wake for Whitney, Winehouse and Etta James, another R&B goddess who died last month at age 73.
As soon as host LL Cool J took the stage at Staples Center in Los Angeles, he insisted on a prayer in memory of Houston. Then he showed a filmed clip of her singing "I Will Always Love You" at the Grammys and sermonized briefly about the healing power of music.
But in the end this was Adele's night. And she had it all -- including album ("21") and record and song of the year ("Rolling in the Deep") and the night's most indelible performance. In her first public appearance since vocal cord surgery in the fall, she started tentatively but found her voice when she soared on the chorus of "Rolling in the Deep." Her performance received the kind of long, ardent standing ovation reserved for legends.
The night's biggest surprise might have been the best new artist trophy for Bon Iver, a band led by our almost-homeboy Justin Vernon of Eau Claire, Wis. He beat crossover country-pop stars the Band Perry, among others. He also took a trophy for best alternative recording for his self-titled sophomore album, a precious collection of cathedral pop.
Wearing a suit and tie, Vernon sounded reluctant and deferential to the other nominees and "non-nominees" as he accepted the new-artist prize. Eventually, he thanked his parents, Eau Claire and the Recording Academy for the "sweet hookup."
The night's most exciting speech was the final one. Accepting the best-album prize, Adele burst into tears and addressed her mother back in England: "Mum -- girl did good." In her disarming, filter-free way, she described her subject matter as ordinary ("a rubbish relationship"), apologized for the "snot" dribbling from her nose and gushed about her life- changing year.
Indeed, "21," arguably the best kiss-off album since Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" in 1974, was a life changer for Adele and the floundering recording industry. It was the biggest-seller of 2011 -- 14 million worldwide. Her "Rolling in the Deep" was the year's best-selling single and led to three Grammys, including best short-form video. That's a giant leap from "19," her debut that earned two Grammys, including best new artist, in 2009.
When Adele accepted the prize Sunday for best pop vocal performance for "Someone Like You," she quickly gave a shout-out to Minneapolis-bred songwriter Dan Wilson, who co-wrote the tune with her. He later collected a Grammy as a co-producer of "21."
Sunday was also a memorable night for the Foo Fighters, rock's most rambunctious band, who grabbed five trophies. Rap superstar Kanye West was a no-show to pick up his four trophies, and Skrillex, the electronica DJ, proudly collected three.
Less than a dozen awards were presented on TV. The show was mostly about live music. Jennifer Hudson gave a stunningly slow, spare and emotion-packed reading of "I Will Always Love You." Bruce Springsteen, bathed in strings, opened the show with his passionate, patriotic single "We Take Care of Our Own." Foo Fighters blasted "Walk." Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt offered a soulful, low-key version of James' "A Sunday Kind of Love." Paul McCartney crooned the suitably mushy ballad "My Valentine" and closed the night with the Beatles' "Golden Slumbers," with Joe Walsh, Springsteen and Grohl joining in for a guitar jam.
Not all the important action happened on television. One of the most moving moments came earlier when Winehouse earned another Grammy, for best pop collaboration with Tony Bennett. He accepted the trophy and then invited Winehouse's parents, Mitch and Janis, to join him at the podium.
"We shouldn't be here," Mitch said. "Our daughter should be here. That's one of the cards we're dealt. ... Long live Whitney Houston. Long live Amy Winehouse. Long live Etta James. There's a beautiful girl band out there in heaven."
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719 • Twitter: @jonbream