Despite Pretension, Grammys Keep Humor in Awards Show

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

THE overwhelming emotion one felt at the conclusion of the 36th Annual Grammy Awards, presented on Tuesday night at Radio City Music Hall, was relief. The year of Whitney Houston is over. She will not be singing ``I Will Always Love You'' on any more award shows. We can move on to other things.

Mike Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, put it mildly when he said backstage after the show that there ``were probably some mainstream selections.'' Indeed, the chief winners of the evening were Whitney Houston and her producer, David Foster, and composers Alan Menken and Tim Rice. The soundtrack album to ``The Bodyguard'' took Best Album honors; Houston won for Best Pop Vocal for ``I Will Always Love You,'' which she sang to open the show. The song also earned Record of the Year, and Foster, who won four Grammys all together, won for Producer of the Year. Although there wasn't a whole lot of suspense about the proceedings, Houston later assured the press, ``I get nervous, I do. Really.''

Menken and Rice won for Song of the Year, ``A Whole New World,'' from the Disney movie ``Aladdin.'' The same song won an award for Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle for Best Pop Vocal by a Duo or Group; the ``Aladdin'' soundtrack won for Best Musical Album for Children, Best Instrumental Composition for a Motion Picture, and Best Song for a Motion Picture. His arm full of awards, Menken later said, ``You never get tired of these.'' For his part, David Foster said he was ``praying for a year that Alan Menken doesn't write a song.''

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Veteran performers carried the evening, with awards going to such stalwarts as Tony Bennett, Joe Henderson, Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King. Bennett, who won Best Traditional Pop Vocal in an upset over Barbra Streisand, upon accepting said, ``I don't know what Barbra's going to say about this.'' Bennett won in the same category last year, and he is clearly relishing his success, which has extended to rock fans. When later asked his opinion about rap music, he responded, ``I'm still waiting for that second note. I'm a melody man.''

The veteran rock group Aerosmith won for Best Rock Performance by a Group for ``Livin' on the Edge.'' Lead singer Steven Tyler was an outrageous sight in his bizarre headdress, which he explained came from a ``witch doctor from New Orleans.'' He also said about his wardrobe: ``You'd be surprised how expensive it is to look this cheap.''

Bono, from the Irish band U2, was the voice of rock rebellion. Upon accepting the award for Best Alternative Album, he immediately lit up some kind of cigarette, muttered, ``Yeah, alternative,'' and followed that up with an obscenity. After the telecast, the academy's Mike Greene commented, ``Welcome to live television. Get over it.'' Bono, when asked about his remark, said, ``I say that every day,'' although he did allow that he was a little embarrassed, being ``filthy rich and all.''

Bono also delivered a lengthy poetic monologue about Frank Sinatra, whom he then presented with a Grammy Legend Award. Sinatra belied his reputation for toughness by tearing up during his long acceptance speech, which was cut short. Greene later disavowed any responsibility for the cut, saying that it was Sinatra's own producer who made the decision.

Sting won several awards, including Best Male Pop Vocal, and his producer, Hugh Padgham, won for Best Engineered Album. It was a pleasant experience, Padgham commented backstage, because the album was made ``in Sting's dining room.''

Huge ovations were awarded to poet Maya Angelou, who thanked President Clinton upon winning her award for Best Spoken Word Album, and producer George Martin, who won for the cast recording of ``The Who's Tommy.'' Singer Aretha Franklin also received a standing ovation upon receiving her Lifetime Achievement Award.

Several big winners of the evening are not around anymore - a boxed set devoted to Billie Holiday won two awards, and Bela Bartok was the composer of four of the classical-award winners. Audrey Hepburn won a spoken word album award, and Miles Davis won a jazz award. His family later confirmed the rumor that actor Wesley Snipes is to play Davis in an upcoming film. Steve Vai won a Rock Instrumental Award for his tribute to the late Frank Zappa and commented that Zappa had advised him, toward the end of his life, to ``keep the humor in the music.''

One of the highlights of the evening was the presentation of a Grammy Legend Award to songwriter-performer Curtis Mayfield, confined to a wheelchair after an accident. A medley of his songs was performed by an all-star band, including Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt. Mayfield later said that the most moving moment involved ``having all my colleagues, friends, and peers around me as we sang `Amen.' ''

New York has been swept up in Grammy mania for the last week, and for good reason. It was estimated that $40 million was pumped into the local economy as a result of the show. Former Mayor David Dinkins was explicit about the situation, saying, ``The folks in L.A. don't appreciate the Grammys. We do.'' Nevertheless, it was confirmed that in 1996 there is a good chance that the show will originate in either Atlanta or Nashville.

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