Ray Charles made his final album, Genius Loves Company, to honor some of the friends and artists he had loved over a lifetime. Last night, the Recording Academy returned the favor, awarding Charles eight Grammy awards, including album of the year and record of the year.
The legendary musician, who died last June at age 73, won every award for which he was nominated and captured the two major awards for the first time in a six-decade career that changed the face of music. Genius Loves Company, with 2.1 million copies sold, is Charles' best-selling album.
Accepting the award for album of the year, Charles' longtime manager Joe Adams said, "Humbly we accept this wonderful, wonderful award, and we offer humongous thanks to you individually and collectively from the bottom of our hearts. We love you madly, passionately, invigorously and continuously."
Charles' sweep edged out other artists who had been expected to have a big night. R&B star Usher, who had the year's best-selling album, Confessions, won just three of the eight awards for which he was nominated. Alicia Keys, also nominated in eight categories, won four Grammys.
Besides the tributes to Charles by Bonnie Raitt and others who appeared with him on Genius Loves Company, the Grammy telecast on CBS did not make for gripping television. Performers sanded the sharp edges off their songs, stripping them of power and emotion, and host Queen Latifah was bland at best.
A soporific duet between recently wedded Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, with the stage set like a bedroom, seemed more appropriate for a daytime soap opera than a major awards show. Indeed, there were few awards to go around. The 3 1/2 -hour telecast featured 24 performances and only a dozen announced awards.
In other top categories, sensitive singer-songwriter John Mayer won song of the year for "Daughters" and Maroon 5 won best new artist. Maroon 5's album, Songs About Jane, a mixture of soul, funk and rock, came out in June 2002 and only took off in the last year. It has sold 3 million copies.
Standing with his bandmates onstage at the Staples Center in Los Angeles last night, Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine said, "These are my best friends, and this is the trippiest thing I've ever gone through in my life."
Hip-hop artist Kanye West, who was also nominated for best new artist, won best rap album for The College Dropout, in which he speaks sincerely of the power of faith. West, who was in a car accident before the album was released, also won two other awards last night, including best rap song for "Jesus Walks." "When I had my accident, I found out that moment, nothing in life is promised except death," West said. "If you have the opportunity to play this game of life, you have to appreciate every moment."
Loretta Lynn seemed to understand that. The country legend lingered onstage after winning best country album for Van Lear Rose. Lynn said last night, "The main thing about country music is I love to sing it, and there are a lot of people who love to hear it."
The punk-pop band Green Day won best rock album for the sprawling, operatic American Idiot, a spirited critique of the Bush administration that debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart in September and has sold 2.3 million copies since, according to Nielsen Soundscan.
In accepting the award, Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong said, "Rock and roll can be dangerous and fun at the same time."
R&B singer Keys won four Grammys, including best R&B album for The Diary of Alicia Keys. And Usher, despite his three awards, was shut out in the major categories - a surprise given that his album sold 8.2 million copies and the Grammys love to reward success.
Rock icons U2 took home three Grammys, for best rock song, best short-form music video and best rock performance by a duo or group - all for the single "Vertigo" from the band's new album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. (The album itself was not up for any awards because it was released after Sept. 30 last year.)
U2 also provided one of the more tender performances of the evening with the song "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own," a tribute to lead singer Bono's recently deceased father. "He had a beautiful tenor voice," Bono said. "I like to think that when he passed away, he gave that to me."
Grammy voters played it safe in the best alternative album category, giving the award to Wilco - a band that deserved the award two years ago for its gorgeous Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but was overlooked. Wilco's win last night for A Ghost Is Born was the band's first Grammy.
Some veterans finally were 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 how he'd never won a Grammy - won for traditional pop vocal album for his standards recording Stardust ... The Great American Songbook Vol. III.
The often-maligned Britney Spears also finally won her first Grammy - best dance recording for "Toxic."
Former President Bill Clinton picked up his second Grammy award in as many years, for his narration of his autobiography, My Life. Clinton won last year for Best Spoken Word Album for Children. (The win gives him one more Grammy than his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who won in 1996 for narration of her book It Takes a Village.)
The Associated Press contributed to this article.