'Genius' Ray Charles Triumphs at Grammys

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Ray Charles had a legendary career that defied categorization and influenced generations of artists _ but he never had one of those blockbuster albums that many lesser artists have enjoyed.

Monday, February 14th 2005, 8:32 am

By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Ray Charles had a legendary career that defied categorization and influenced generations of artists _ but he never had one of those blockbuster albums that many lesser artists have enjoyed.

Eight months after his death, all is right with the world. Charles' final album, ``Genius Loves Company,'' won a leading eight Grammy awards on Sunday night, including album of the year, record of the year for ``Here We Go Again'' with Norah Jones, and pop vocal album.

The victories highlighted the astounding success of ``Genius Loves Company,'' which has sold more than two million copies _ the most of Charles' 60-plus albums.

``I'm going to cry, actually,'' Jones said as she accepted the trophy for record of the year. ``I think it just shows how wonderful music can be.''

U2 won three awards, including best rock performance by a duo or group. Green Day, the most nominated rock act with six for their politically charged punk opera ``American Idiot,'' won best rock album.

``Rock 'n' roll can be dangerous and fun at the same time, so thanks a lot,'' Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong said as he accepted the award.

Alicia Keys and Usher shared an award Sunday night for best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocals for their chart-topping duet ``My Boo.'' Each was nominated for eight Grammys; Keys won four while Usher had three.

John Mayer was one of the artists who prevented a record night by Keys, as his mellow tribute ``Daughters'' won song of the year.

Keys had a chance to win more than any other woman in one evening. In 2002 she won five Grammys for her debut album, ``Songs in A Minor,'' becoming only the second woman to win that many in one night. (Lauryn Hill won five in 1999; Jones and Beyonce also won five after Keys did.)

The most nominated artist of the year was perhaps the most multifaceted _ Kanye West, the songwriter-producer who made his rap debut in 2004 with the cutting-edge CD ``The College Dropout.'' He was nominated for 10 Grammys, including album of the year, but only took home three, including best rap album and best rap song for ``Jesus Walks.''

He was upset in the best new artist category, losing to Maroon 5 in a race that also included country singer Gretchen Wilson, Los Lonely Boys and soul siren Joss Stone.

Maroon 5's Adam Levine seemed almost apologetic after winning.

``Kanye West, I want to thank you so much for being wonderful,'' he said. The camera cut away to West, who looked less than pleased.

Some expected West to have a meltdown like at the American Music Awards, where he complained bitterly backstage after losing the same award to Wilson. But on Sunday night he went on to deliver an eye-popping performance of ``Jesus Walks'' and an emotional acceptance speech for best rap album.

After referencing the car accident a few years ago that almost took his life, West promised to live life to the fullest: ``I plan to celebrate and scream and pop champagne every chance I get because I'M AT THE GRAMMYS, BABY!''

He also referenced his AMA embarrassment. ``Everybody wanted to know what would I do if I didn't win. I guess we'll never know,'' he said, holding his trophy up high.

At least West didn't have to wait decades to get a trophy, as did some veterans finally honored by the Recording Academy.

Steve Earle's left-leaning ``The Revolution Starts... Now'' won for contemporary folk album. And Rod Stewart _ who had complained in recent years about never winning a Grammy _ won for traditional pop vocal album for his standards recording ``Stardust ... The Great American Songbook Vol. III.''

Brian Wilson, who released his album ``Smile'' after a more than three-decade wait, won best rock instrumental performance for ``Mrs. O'Leary's Cow.'' He had never been honored before, even as leader of The Beach Boys. The big irony: the man who did more for vocal harmony than anyone in rock 'n' roll won in an instrumental category.

``I waited 42 years for this Grammy and it was well worth the wait,'' Wilson said backstage. ``It represents triumph and achievement in music that I feel that I deserved, and I'm really glad I won.''

The oft-maligned Britney Spears also won her first Grammy _ best dance recording for ``Toxic.''

Spears wasn't present, but another newlywed was on hand: Jennifer Lopez performed a duet in Spanish with new hubby Marc Anthony, their first public performance together.

Other performers included Green Day, whose rollicking act was bleeped by the censors; and U2. Even the ``Godfather of Soul'' James Brown joined Usher for a funky number showcasing their dancing prowess.

Perhaps the evening's most exhilarating performance was from Melissa Etheridge. The rocker, who is battling breast cancer, took to the stage for a Janis Joplin tribute with a shaved head but strong voice, and received a standing ovation.

But ultimately, the night belonged to Ray Charles. Besides the four awards for best album and song, ``Genius Loves Company'' won for best instrumental arrangement accompanying a vocalist, best gospel performance, best engineered album and best surround sound album.

Charles was 73 when he died in June, with a total of 12 Grammys in his 50-plus year career. The most he ever won in one night was four in 1960, including two for the classic ``Georgia On My Mind.''

That was the song performed Sunday by Keys and the actor Jamie Foxx, considered an Oscar lock for his portrayal of Charles in ``Ray.''

Foxx, a more then decent musician, sat at a piano opposite Keys as Quincy Jones conducted the orchestra.

``For an old friend,'' Foxx said as he began to play.

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