He led all artists with 12 nominations, but Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, the songwriter and producer whose fingerprints were on many of the biggest hits last year, walked away from the 39th annual Grammy Awards with only three prizes Wednesday night.
The ultra-smooth Edmonds was voted producer of the year and shared record-of-the-year honors with Eric Clapton for the guitarist’s “Change the World.” His third award was for writing the rhythm-and-blues song “Exhale (Shoop Shoop),” a cut on the “Waiting to Exhale” sound track.
The underwhelming showing by the one-man music factory was the biggest surprise in the annual star-studded gala, whose host for the second consecutive year was the desperately unfunny Ellen DeGeneres.
There were other, minor upsets. There was the poor showing by Smashing Pumpkins, whose seven nominations resulted in only one award - for hard-rock performance on “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” And there was the triumph of 14-year-old country singer LeAnn Rimes, who was ignored at the Country Music Awards last fall but beat No Doubt, Jewel, Garbage, and the Tony Rich Project in voting for best new artist. She is the first country singer to receive the honor in 30 years.
The performer, whose hit “Blue” also won the country song award, was tearful as she accepted the newcomer’s award for a song she recorded at age 11. “This means more to me than anything in this world,” said Rimes, who only a short time later won the honor for best female country vocal.
“Success can be a great thing. It can also be the worst thing. I am going to keep myself grounded,” she vowed.
The 11,000 voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, ridiculed by critics yearly, has made efforts to recognize more adventurous music. The voters acknowledged Beck, the mixmaster whose “Odelay” was a critics’ favorite, and Rage Against the Machine (whose “Tire Me” won for best metal performance), among others. But then they turned around and gave Sheryl Crow the rock-album award for her eponymous second release and bestowed the coveted album-of-the-year award to the over-emotive Celine Dion for “Falling Into You.”
Beck was typically twisted in accepting his first award, for alternative-music performance. “This is very smooth,” he said, stroking his miniature gramophone statuette. Later, Beck appeared in a sharp suit to sing “Where It’s At,” a song that earned him a Grammy for male rock vocal, and delivered one of the show’s few performance highlights.
Fugees, the hip-hop sensation, pulled down two trophies: Its album, “The Score,” was recognized as best rap album, and the single “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” a remake of the 1973 Roberta Flack hit, earned the trio honors for rhythm-and-blues vocal.
Accepting Fugees’ album prize, vocalist Lauryn Hill thanked “God for teaching us how important it is to be humble, especially in this business.” The group performed a spirited version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” with members of the Wailers and the veteran Jamaican vocal group the I-Threes.
The rap solo performance award went to LL Cool J, for his single “Hey Lover.” The hip-hop veteran and star of the UPN sitcom “In the House” was unusually candid later: “My head was exploding over there,” he confessed, “because I didn’t want to have to smile if someone else won.”
The Beatles, winners of only four Grammys during their career, received three more Wednesday night - including best group pop performance and best short video for “Free As a Bird,” which was built on a song fragment left behind by the late John Lennon. The group’s third Grammy was for the long-form “Beatles Anthology” package.
Bruce Springsteen, who probably never thought of himself as a folkie, won the contemporary folk album statuette for “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” a dour meditation on the lives of the downtrodden. And saxophonist Michael Brecker got awards in both the jazz instrumental solo and jazz instrumental group categories.
It was a good night for Clapton.
The 51-year-old guitarist picked up three statuettes. In addition to winning record of the year and male pop vocal for “Change the World” - a cut from the “Phenomenon” sound track - he was recognized for his participation in “SRV Shuffle,” an all-star tribute to the late blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was awarded the spoken-word Grammy for the audio version of her book “It Takes a Village.” “I was very surprised because I didn’t even know that the Grammys were given to tone-deaf people like me,” she joked afterward, recalling an off-key duet she performed on the “Rosie O’Donnell Show.”
The evening’s performances began in ballad land: Clapton and Babyface did an acoustic-guitar duet on “Change the World,” and were soon followed by Quebec native Dion, who injected extra bombast into Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself.”
Savion Glover and the company of “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk” and the cast of “Riverdance” were featured in a segment that received a standing ovation. And a platoon of R&B; divas - everyone from Whitney Houston to Chaka Khan to Aretha Franklin - was on hand for a “Waiting to Exhale” medley that might have been subtitled “A Valentine to Babyface.”
Lifetime achievement awards went to blues singer Bobby “Blue” Bland, rock vocal duo the Everly Brothers, jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, and jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, and post-humously to singer Judy Garland, rock pioneer Buddy Holly, jazz bassist Charles Mingus, and rock composer Frank Zappa. Trustees awards went to record executives Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, and songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
The ceremony was the first held in a venue as large as Madison Square Garden, and the first that could be attended by members of the public.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Top Grammy winners Record of the year “Change the World,” Eric Clapton. Album of the year - “Falling Into You,” Celine Dion. Song of the year - “Change the World,” Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Tommy Sims. Male pop vocal performance - “Change the World,” Eric Clapton. Female pop vocal performance - “Un-break My Heart,” Toni Braxton. New artist - LeAnn Rimes. Pop album - “Falling Into You,” Celine Dion. Producer of the year - Babyface. Male rock vocal performance - “Where It’s At,” Beck. Female rock vocal performance - “If It Makes You Happy,” Sheryl Crow. Metal performance - ‘Tire Me,” Rage Against the Machine Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper. Hard rock performance - “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” The Smashing Pumpkins. Rock song - “Give Me One Reason,” Tracy Chapman. Rock album - “Sheryl Crow,” Sheryl Crow. Alternative music performance - “Odelay,” Beck. Female R&B; performance - “You’re Makin’ Me High,” Toni Braxton. Male R&B; vocal performance - “Your Secret Love,” Luther Vandross. R&B; song - “Exhale (Shoop Shoop),” Babyface. R&B; album - “Words,” The Tony Rich Project. Rap album - “The Score,” Fugees. Country album - “The Road to Ensenada,” Lyle Lovett. Female country vocal performance - “Blue,” LeAnn Rimes. Male country vocal performance - “Worlds Apart,” Vince Gill. Country song - “Blue” Bill Mack. Contemporary jazz performance album - “High Life,” Wayne Shorter. Rock gospel album - “Jesus Freak,” DC Talk. Pop/contemporary gospel album - “Tribute: The Songs of Andrae Crouch,” Various Artists. Southern gospel, country gospel or bluegrass gospel album - “I Love to Tell the Story: 25 Timeless Hymns,” Andy Griffith. Traditional soul gospel album - “Face to Face,” Cissy Houston. Contemporary soul gospel album - “Whatcha Lookin’ 4,” Kirk Franklin and the Family. Traditional blues album - “Deep in the Blues,” James Cotton. Contemporary blues album - “Just Like You,” Keb’ Mo’. Traditional folk album - “Pete,” Pete Seeger. Contemporary folk album - “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” Bruce Springsteen. Classical album - “Corigliano: Of Rage and Remembrance (Sym. No. 1, Etc.),” Leonard Slatkin, conductor. Associated Press