Past and present collide at 50th Grammy Awards

It’s been 50 years since the very first Grammy Awards, and the producers of the show definitely wanted to celebrate with a bang this year. The show opened with a beyond-the-grave performance as Grammy darling Alicia Keys, planted at her piano, sang a bluesy duet with Frank Sinatra, his image projected onto the stage. Keys claimed the night’s show would be a “duet with history,” and such a statement proved to be true as viewers were taken on a tour of the history of music. A wide spectrum of performers hit the stage, all coming from different genres and styles, making this year’s show a cornucopia of variety.

Representing country music lovers, Carrie Underwood performed her smash “Before He Cheats” along with a drum team, which accompanied the “American Idol” alum playing percussion on an elaborate set of car parts, quite fitting with the lyrics of the song.

Bringing in the pop and urban flavor, Rihanna did a flashy club-like performance of her multi-nominated “Umbrella,” while Fergie, despite looking beautiful, screeched her way through a boring duet with John Legend that received little response from the audience. However, a duet that did turn heads was the joining of pop diva Beyoncé and the still-kicking Tina Turner. After a brief intro where a semi-naked Beyoncé rattled off the names of some of history’s greatest female soul singers, she willingly shared the spotlight with Turner as the duet performed a shimmying rendition of Turner’s staple “Proud Mary.”

Kanye West also performed “Stronger” with a very special and unexpected appearance by the creators of the original sampled track, Daft Punk. West also paid a small tribute to his mother, whose much publicized death this past November still reverberates in the lyrics of his song “Hey Mama,” which kept the audience in absolute silence and gained him thunderous applause at its conclusion. However, the mastermind behind “Graduation” was met with little respect when giving his acceptance speech for Rap Album of the Year. Seconds into his speech West called out the producers of the show when they began playing background music while he honored his mother. “It would be in good taste to stop the music,” he said, and it promptly did.

Gospel, which is pretty much ignored during each year’s award show, was given its own time to shine, as Aretha Franklin led a powerful choir of singers in a rousing song of praise.

And the Foo Fighters injected some much needed rock ‘n’ roll into the ceremony by tearing their way through “The Pretender” before being honored with Rock Album of the Year.

Feist represented for the acoustic indie-lovers of the music world by performing “1 2 3 4,” which, thanks to iPod commercials, no one could escape this year. And though her performance was one of the most endearing of the night, the singer-songwriter did not take home any awards, including the Best New Artist award, which she lost to trainwreck of the year Amy Winehouse.

And the night seemed to really belong to the now-recovering addict. The recent drama surrounding her drug use and the circumstances of whether the singer would be granted a visa to attend the show kept most in suspense for her appearance. Though she stayed in London, she performed via satellite and looked much healthier than she recently has while delivering a splendidly on-point performance of “You Know I’m No Good” and the brilliant “Rehab.” The latter won the singer not only the lyricist award, Song of the Year, but it also scored her the coveted Record of the Year, to which a stunned Winehouse immediately teared up, collapsing into a crowd of her friends and family. However, the grand prize of the night, Album of the Year, was not given to contemporary hit-makers like West, Winehouse or the Foo Fighters, but was instead placed in the hands of jazz pianist, Herbie Hancock, for “River: The Joni Letters.”

As always, the constant barrage of performers and endless parade of celebrities was probably quite taxing on most viewers (especially when the show started to inch toward 11:30), but considering that this year included such an eclectic spectrum of artists, 2008’s show will go down as one of the most memorable Grammy ceremonies so far this century.