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A Shout-Out to Ray

The Late R&B Singer Tops the Grammys With Eight Awards; Alicia Keys Takes Four

By Sean Daly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2005; Page C01

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 13--A late, great genius trumped the reigning pups of pop at the 47th annual Grammy Awards Sunday, as beloved American icon Ray Charles and his album "Genius Loves Company" scored the most shiny gold trophies on music's biggest night -- eight, including album of the year.

"How many millions of people has he made smile through his records?" said jazz-pop chanteuse Norah Jones, fighting back tears while accepting the award for record of the year for "Here We Go Again," her duet with the man they called Brother Ray.

Jamie Foxx and Alicia Keys, who won four Grammys, in a duet of Ray Charles's "Georgia on My Mind." (Kevork Djansezian -- AP)

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Charles, who died last June of liver disease at the age of 73, would surely have enjoyed many of his young competitors -- especially overnight phenom Kanye West, the rapper-producer who was nominated for a whopping 10 awards. The Chicagoan didn't win 'em all -- he won three, actually -- but West had the performance of the night, an incendiary version of his gospel-infused hip-hop march "Jesus Walks," and an acceptance speech that had the crowd in L.A.'s Staples Center standing and cheering.

"If you have this opportunity to play the game of life, you need to appreciate every moment," the 27-year-old West said, referring to a car accident that almost killed him in 2002 and clutching his trophy for best rap album for his debut, "The College Dropout." "A lot of people don't appreciate their moment until it's past."

Then, switching from solemn to sly: "Everybody wanted to know what I'd do if I didn't win." West lifted his trophy in the air and struck a cool pose, enjoying the suspense. "I guess we'll never know!"

In one of the most moving performances of the night, piano-playing R&B diva Alicia Keys wailed out her big ballad "If I Ain't Got You," which earlier had won for best female R&B vocal performance. She was then joined by Jamie Foxx, the comedian and actor (and pianist) who is nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Charles in "Ray," for a duet on Charles's "Georgia on My Mind." Keys soon went on to win a total of four Grammys, including best R&B album for "The Diary of Alicia Keys" and best R&B performance by a duo or group for "My Boo," her chart-topping duet with neo-soul stud Usher.

Speaking of Usher: His album "Confessions" was the largest-selling album of 2004, and although it didn't do as well at the Grammys as his fans probably hoped, he did win for best contemporary R&B album, one of his three awards on the night. In an inspired pairing, he was joined onstage by James Brown for a silly "Sex Machine."

That kind of unlikely mix-and-match performance made this Grammy event one of the most entertaining in recent memory. The show commenced with a scramble of hyperactivity. Five young, pretty acts on four stages took turns playing their hits: hip-hop collective the Black Eyed Peas pogoed through "Let's Get It Started"; rapper Eve helped Gwen Stefani -- dressed like a high-priced, uh, pirate -- with "Rich Girl"; the Garza brothers of Tex-Mex trio Los Lonely Boys bluesed up their "Heaven," then gave way to fellow best-new-artist nominee Maroon 5 and that pop-rock band's "This Love"; and finally, Glaswegian glam-rockers Franz Ferdinand finished things off with "Take Me Out." An exhausting bit of popmanship, but earnest and likable nonetheless.

After some bad shtick from show host Queen Latifah, Los Lonely Boys won for best pop performance by a duo or group for "Heaven." Ah yes, the ol' perform-and-win routine, a favorite of most awards shows -- and definitely these Grammys.

A couple of standout sequences:

A gospel medley teamed Mavis Staples, singing the Staple Singers' classic "I'll Take You There"; West's "Jesus Walks," which featured a full choir and a pretty expensive-looking set; and a graceful "I'll Fly Away" by the Blind Boys of Alabama. Later, young British blues singer Joss Stone and Melissa Etheridge (whose bald head showed the effects of her chemotherapy for breast cancer) knocked out a couple of Janis Joplin classics with aplomb. Especially Etheridge.

L.A.'s own Maroon 5 scored the biggest upset of the night when it beat out the assumed favorite West to win best new artist. CBS, proving that it has a wicked sense of humor, flashed to a shot of West, who looked like he was about to twitch right out of his white suit. Note that the boys in Maroon 5 thanked West first.

Loretta Lynn, the 69-year-old coal miner's daughter whose album "Van Lear Rose" made many a critic's Top 10 list, won best country album, and also scored best country collaboration with vocals for the song "Portland Oregon," a duet with pale-faced White Stripes goon Jack White, who produced the album. They were very cute together onstage -- like Dracula and Maude.

"This is for my father, Bob," Bono said before veteran Dublin rockers U2 -- who had earlier won best rock song and best rock performance by a duo or group for the hit "Vertigo" -- played the big, tingly weeper "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own." "I wish I got to know him better."

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