The 54th Grammy Awards will be remembered as a story of two women with towering, timeless voices — Adele and Whitney Houston — one representing youthful triumph and boundless possibility, the other a reminder of fresh tragedy and a life unraveled.
Adele, the 23-year-old British singer-songwriter, took home six awards including album, record and song of the year, a trophy bounty that puts a gold-plating on a commercial and critical success story that has dramatically defied the grim gravities of today's economically-challenged recording industry.
Adele's other victory came when she stepped to the microphone and sang a robust version of her hit "Rolling in the Deep," which suggests that she is past the career scare of throat surgery that came just after Halloween and kept her mute throughNew Year's Day. It was her first public performance since the operation.
Adele's honors for her sophomore album, "21," were juxtaposed against the dazed grief and still-raw reactions to the death of Houston on Saturday. The 48-year-old singer was found in a bathtub in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and, while the determination of cause of death could take weeks, Houston's history of drug addiction is a likely starting point for the investigation.
The Grammy broadcast on CBS began with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing its new hard-times anthem, "We Take Care of Our Own," and then host LL Cool J addressing the loss of Houston, a six-time Grammy winner who tumbled from the pinnacle of the pop charts into the pit of a tabloid life.
"We ask ourself," the rapper and actor said with the crisp tones of a Sunday sermon, "How do we speak to this time, to this day? There is no way around this. We've had a death in our family. At least to me, the only thing that seems right is to start with a prayer for our fallen sister, Whitney Houston." He then read a prayer while the audience went silent, many with bowed heads.