Grammy voters took the risk-free route, coronating essentially mainstream works: “The Bodyguard” soundtrack took four trophies, Sting’s album got a trio, and songs from the film “Aladdin” led with five statuettes, at the 36th annual Grammy Awards Tuesday night at Radio City Music Hall.
Whitney Houston kicked off the televised portion of the award ceremony with her performance of “I Will Always Love You,” the smash hit from the “Bodyguard” soundtrack that has by now been seared into the American consciousness. She returned to the stage moments later, as expected, to pick up the best pop vocal performance for the same song. Houston and producer David Foster scored the record of the year Grammy for the song, a win in one of the evening’s big categories.
The run continued for Houston right up until show’s end, when producer David Foster picked up the producer of the year nod, clearly as a result of his work on “The Bodyguard” album.
The album also earned Foster and Houston the album of the year trophy, an award shared with the disc’s co-producers, L.A. Reid and Babyface, Narada Michael Walden and BeBe Winans.
But the “Bodyguard” total was topped by music from “Aladdin.” The songwriting team of Alan Menken and Tim Rice earned the coveted song of the year Grammy for “A Whole New World (Aladdin’s Theme),” defeating popular or critically acclaimed works by Meat Loaf, Neil Young, and Sting. The song, crooned by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle, also won in the pop vocal performance/duo or group category. Music from the film also scored three wins in lesser categories, and if not for Houston’s wins in several key awards, “Aladdin” music might have swept the Awards ceremony.
Sting’s tally started early. In the pre-telecast portion of the ceremony, he earned a Grammy for best longform musicvideo and best engineered album, both for “Ten Summoner’s Tales.” He also picked up the best pop vocal performance, male, for the single “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” defeating Billy Joel, Boy George, Aaron Neville and sentimental favorite Rod Stewart.
Host Garry Shandling was in fine form, and his hosting efforts were fluid.
A Bono no-no
U2’s Bono — who offered an off-color example of rock ‘n’ roll rebelliousness earlier in the show — presented Frank Sinatra with the Grammy Legend Award with a rambling, albeit colorful speech calling the Chairman of the Board “the boss of bosses, the big bang of pop … more connected than the twin towers and proof that God is a Catholic.”
Choking back tears, Sinatra accepted the award as the audience gave him a lengthy standing ovation. After stalling for several moments while he gathered his thoughts, Sinatra countered, “This is more applause than Dean had in his whole life.” However, Sinatra himself was cut off in midspeech — for a commercial break.
One of the year’s success stories continued as Toni Braxton scored a best new artist Grammy, adding to the many other accolades the diminutive diva has received since releasing her multi-platinum, self-titled debut on La Face Records.
The R&B vocal categories yielded some surprises, giving Braxton the best R&B female vocal performance Grammy over Houston, while Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” earned statuettes for the singer and the tune’s co-writers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
Nod to Ray Charles
The best R&B male vocal performance award went to Ray Charles for his single “A Song for You,” besting efforts by Babyface and Luther Vandross.
The Grammy for best rock song went to Soul Asylum for their “Runaway Train” single, while Stone Temple Pilots earned a best hard rock performance trophy for “Plush,” a track from its Atlantic Records debut album “Core.” The best metal performance with vocal Grammy went to Ozzy Osbourne for “I Don’t Want to Change the World” off his “Live & Loud” disc.
Aerosmith, whose performance was one of the show’s best moments, took home a Grammy for best rock performance by a duo or group for “Living on the Edge,” the band’s ode to the interactive new media.
The tribute to Curtis Mayfield, fronted by musical heavyweights Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Winwood and B.B. King, was also a program high point, as the veteran R&B artist and industry fixture looked on. Mayfield, paralyzed from the neck down, is one of the prime motivators for the creation by NARAS of the MusicCares program, which offers health care to members of the music industry.
Tony Bennett added to his four lifetime Grammy total, getting the best traditional pop vocal performance Grammy for “Steppin’ Out.”
Country showings mirrored both critical and commercial choices, with Mary-Chapin Carpenter’s “Passionate Kisses” single getting two Grammy Awards early on. The tune’s writer, Lucinda Davis, took the best country song trophy.
The rap category went as expected, with Dr. Dre taking home the best solo performance Grammy for his “Let Me Ride” single. Despite the genre’s popularity, this pre-telecast award is only one of two nods given during the ceremony. Newcomers Digable Planets scored the Grammy for best rap performance by a duo or group, but appeared less than grateful. DP front man, Ishmael Butler, chastised the Academy during his acceptance speech for its “$ 300 seats and $ 900 seats when there’s (people) out there not eating at all.”
Steve Vai won a best instrumental performance Grammy for “Sofa,” a cut from his Frank Zappa tribute album “Zappa’s Universe,” while Bruce Hornsby and Branford Marsalis won the best pop instrumental performance for “Barcelona Mona, ” the Olympics theme music used by CBS. Jazz veteran Joe Henderson picked up a pair of back-to-back Grammy Awards, scoring the best jazz instrumental solo for “Miles Ahead,” a track from his “So Near, So Far” album, which also won for best instrumental performance by an individual or group.
Video visionary Peter Gabriel earned a best musicvideo short form Grammy for “Steam,” his second trophy in the category in as many years.
Children’s musical icon Barney succumbed to the magic of “Aladdin” as songwriters Alan Menken & Tim Rice picked up the best musical album for children Grammy, while Menken later landed a best instrumental composition for a motion picture or TV for the theme. Menken and Rice would again return to the stage to pick up the Grammy for best song written specifically for a motion picture or TV show for “A Whole New World.”
The soundtrack from “Sleepless in Seattle” earned producer David Foster his first Grammy of the night for best instrumental arrangement accompanying vocals. Just minutes before winning his first trophy, Foster, hosting the pre-telecast ceremonies, told the audience that “none of the records I’ve produced have won.” The disc also scored the best pop performance by a duo or group for the track “When I Fall in Love,” warbled by Celine Dion and Clive Griffin.
The boxed set from Billie Holiday earned a trio of Grammy Awards, for best liner notes, best historical album and best recording package.
Poet Maya Angelou thanked President Bill Clinton for asking her to write the poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” which earned the activist a Grammy for best spoken word or non-musical album.
Best opera recording went to “Handel: Semele,” which featured an all-star cast including Kathleen Battle and Marilyn Horne, among others, backed by the English Chamber Orchestra and Ambrosia Opera Chorus. Composer Elliott Carter scored a best contemporary composition Grammy for “Carter: Violin Concerto,” featuring violinist Ole Bohn.
The Chieftains, one of the dark horses of last year’s ceremony who picked up a pair of trophies, got this year’s best traditional folk album Grammy for their “The Celtic Harp.”
The best musical show album Grammy went to “The Who’s Tommy — Original Cast Recording,” over entries from Sondheim, Bernstein and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
NARAS also presented its Lifetime Achievement awards, which honor lifelong artistic contributions to the recording industry. Winners included jazz innovator Bill Evans, Aretha Franklin and pianist Arthur Rubinstein.