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Dixie Chicks triumphed over their critics, Mary J. Blige played comeback queen and Red Hot Chili Peppers reasserted their rock dominance Sunday at the 49th annual Grammy Awards, held at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Chicks won five awards, including record and song of the year for “Not Ready to Make Nice” and album of the year for “Taking the Long Way.” Blige won best R&B song and best female R&B vocal performance for “Be Without You” and best R&B album for “The Breakthrough.”
“Make Nice,” which the Chicks performed live during the show, references the fallout the group endured after singer Natalie Maines spoke out against President Bush at a 2003 concert in England. The song, which trumped hits from Blige, Gnarls Barkley, Corinne Bailey Rae and James Blunt to win record of the year, was shunned by country radio but set the tone for the hit album “Long Way.”
“For the first time in my life, I’m speechless,” Maines said with a laugh while accepting song of the year. The Chicks got the last laugh later in the evening, when “Long Way” won best country album. “A lot of people just turned their TVs off right now,” she said.
Chicks went a perfect 5-for-5 on the night and bring their Grammy total to 13. Chicks’ record, song and album of the year trifecta is the first time since Norah Jones in 2002 that anyone has swept the categories.
Blige went in as the leading nominee with eight but was shut out of the major categories; her wins Sunday doubled her Grammy total to six. “This is the first time I’ve ever been up here to receive anything,” she said onstage, holding back tears. “For so many years I had been talked about negatively, but this time, I’ve been talked about positively by so many people.” Later, she added, “Success exposes who you really are. I want to use this success to build bridges, not to burn them.”
Veteran quartet the Chili Peppers won best rock song and best rock performance by a duo or group with vocal for “Dani California” as well as best rock album and best boxed or special limited-edition package for “Stadium Arcadium,” a double-disc set that has spawned several rock radio hits. Their four wins Sunday were the band’s first since its lone Grammy win 14 years ago.
The reunited Police, who will announce a summer tour today opened the show by playing their breakthrough hit, “Roxanne.”
In an attempt to attract a younger demographic, organizers created the fan-voted “My Grammy Moment” contest, which awarded 18-year-old amateur singer Robyn Troup the chance to perform with Justin Timberlake on Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and his own “My Love.”
Other performances were turned in by Blige, Blunt, Ludacris with Blige and Earth, Wind & Fire, the trio of Bailey Rae, John Legend and John Mayer, Shakira with Wyclef Jean and Gnarls Barkley (whose members dressed as airline pilots). In an R&B-themed segment, Smokey Robinson sang “Tracks of My Tears,” Lionel Richie played “Hello” alone at the piano, rising star Chris Brown sang “Run It,” and Christina Aguilera paid tribute to the late James Brown by belting out “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
“American Idol” alum Carrie Underwood beat Bailey Rae, Blunt and Brown for best new artist moments after performing with Rascal Flatts in a tribute to the Eagles. Meanwhile, Timberlake won best dance recording for “SexyBack” featuring Timbaland and best rap/sung collaboration for “My Love” featuring T.I., who also won best rap solo performance for “What You Know.”
Gnarls Barkley picked up Grammys for best urban/alternative performance for “Crazy” and best alternative music album for “St. Elsewhere.” Bob Dylan won best contemporary folk/Americana album for “Modern Times” and best solo rock vocal performance for the set’s “Someday Baby.” Ike Turner won the traditional blues album award for “Risin’ With the Blues,” his first Grammy since the early 1970s.
Legend won best male R&B vocal performance for “Heaven” and best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocals for “Family Affair” with Joss Stone and Van Hunt. The awards bring his Grammy total to five.
The first televised award of the night went to Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder for best pop collaboration with vocals for “For Once in My Life.” Bennett’s “Duets: An American Classic” also was victorious for best traditional pop vocal album. Dating back to 1962, Bennett now has 13 wins.
Ludacris won best rap album for “Release Therapy” and best rap song for “Money Maker,” featuring Pharrell. The artist gave a shout-out to his father, who he said was in critical condition with an undisclosed ailment, as well as talk show hosts Oprah Winfrey and Bill O’Reilly, with whom he has feuded in the past.
Other winners included Mayer’s “Continuum” for best pop vocal album (his total now stands at four), Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’ ” featuring Krayzie Bone, for best rap performance by a duo or group with vocal, and OK Go won for best shortform music video for the YouTube sensation “Here It Goes Again.”
Guitarist Peter Frampton won best pop instrumental album for “Fingerprints,” which features members of the Rolling Stones and Pearl Jam, while Madonna’s “Confessions on a Dance Floor” took home best electronic/dance album. Madonna’s Grammy bag now has five awards in it.
The Grateful Dead, the Doors, Joan Baez, Maria Callas, Booker T. & the MG’s and Ornette Coleman received lifetime achievement awards, while A&M Records founders Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss got the President’s Merit award. Stax Records co-founder Estelle Axton, engineer Cosimo Matassa and Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim were recognized with the Trustees award.
Jonathan Cohen is senior editor at Billboard.
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