Between the weeklong drama clouding the Grammy Awards and the shocking death of basketball hero Kobe Bryant, the annual event touted as Music’s Biggest Night operated with an unusually melancholy vibe.
That Sunday’s 62nd Annual Grammy Awards unfolded in its usual location of the Staples Center – Bryant’s former basketball home – increased the poignancy of the night.
Producers scrambled to assemble a tribute that was slated to air during the CBS broadcast.
The 3 ½-hour Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony at the neighboring Microsoft Theatre, during which 84 awards were presented, opened with a moment of silence to honor Bryant. Gospel star Kirk Franklin was the first artist to acknowledge the loss. After receiving his Grammy for best gospel performance/song, Franklin closed his speech with thoughts of the basketball icon. "Sending prayers to Kobe Bryant and his family. Blessings."
Legendary music producer Jimmy Jam called it a “trying day” and reminded the Premiere Ceremony crowd, “There are a bunch of music makers in this room and music has the ability to speak when words fail us.”
As for the awards, several Atlanta artists emerged victorious early in the night. Upstart Lil Nas X won his first-ever Grammys, for best pop duo/group performance for his “Old Town Road” remix with Billy Ray Cyrus and best music video for “Old Town Road Official Movie.”
In a white suit and hat with dangling straps, the lanky Atlanta rapper clasped his hands in gratitude as he walked across the stage. While Lil Nas X offered only a quick “thank you,” video director Calmatic noted, “This song and video is the perfect example of trusting your ideas. It can change the world.”
Backstage, Calmatic said when he first received an email about shooting the video and heard about the song, “I literally responded, ‘Is this a joke?’”
Lil Nas X wasn’t the only Atlanta artist making his debut in the winner’s circle. Rapper 21 Savage, nominated for a pair of Grammys last year with Post Malone (while battling immigration legal tangles), earned his first gramophone for best rap song, “A Lot,” which he celebrates with fellow songwriters J. Cole, Dacoury Natche (DJ Dahi) and Anthony White.
Andre 3000 shared the best R&B performance award with Anderson .Paak for “Come Home.” The reclusive Atlanta music man wasn’t present, but Paak praised his contribution.
“(Andre) was one of the artists that showed me that hip-hop doesn’t have to be so one-dimensional. You can wear what you want to wear, you can smile, you can use influences like jazz and rock and funk and still be one of the baddest (expletive) with a rhyme,” he said. “Everyone knows how hard it is to get Andre to do anything. This is such an honor.”
Other early winners included lead nominee Lizzo – up for eight – who scored best urban contemporary album (“Cuz I Love You – Deluxe”) and best traditional R&B performance (“Jerome”). Gary Clark Jr. hauled home three Grammys in rock and blues categories and producer Finneas O’Connell, brother of Billie Eilish, earned the win for producer of the year, non-classical.
“This award belongs to my sister for her trust and her vision. I couldn’t have dreamed of a more wonderful collaborator,” he said.
Eilish is nominated for six Grammys and won for best pop vocal album (“When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”) during the early ceremony.
The Obamas’ Grammy shelf got a bit fuller with former first lady Michelle’s win for best spoken word album (“Becoming”). She joins Hillary Clinton in the first-ladies-with-Grammys club, while former president Barack earned a pair from his audiobooks in 2006 and 2008.
Tanya Tucker scored her first Grammys after 14 previous nominations, for best country song (“Bring My Flowers Now,” written with Brandi Carlile) and best country album (“While I’m Livin’”).
“No matter how young or old you are, never stop following your dreams,” Tucker, visibly moved, said.
Added Carlile, “This is really Tanya’s moment and this is her song and her life. At 61, a woman in country music is leading the way.”
Another music veteran, Gloria Gaynor, last hoisted a Grammy in 1980 for her iconic disco song, was back with a nod for best roots gospel album (“Testimony”) – a genuine testament of, well, survival.
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