It was a good night to be Jay-Z.
New York's current "King of Hip Hop" won three trophies in a ceremony preceding the glitzy '53rd Annual Grammy Awards,' but didn't bother showing up to revel in what was branded as "Music's Biggest Night."
Meanwhile, Eminem -- another hip hop icon, who was a supposed shoo-in to win the major award categories tonight – was there front and center. He even performed (ahem, shouted) an angst-riddled set featuring Dr. Dre, Rihanna and an unidentified chanteuse who nearly put the Bajan beauty to shame. Yet, the Detroit native legally known as Marshall Mathers only took home two trophies – after leading the pack with 10 nominations.
When it came to doling out the awards this year, that sentiment seemed to pretty much summed up the night from start to finish, though.
Surprises and shut-outs seemed to be the status quo at tonight's show; proving once again that just because you're a mainstream media darling, that doesn't necessarily mean you will win an award.
Ask Justin Bieber.
The teen dream had one hell of a week; a Superbowl commercial, his debut movie raking in $30 million at the box-office its opening weekend, and a hyped-up Grammy Awards performance with his mentor/big "brotha," Usher Raymond, and pal Jaden Smith. He walked away empty handed.
It was him and the other mainstream media darling, Drake, who were duking it out for the coveted trophy for Best New Artist. They both were plastered over covers, appeared on late night talk shows and their names were ubiquitous on Viacom-owned music-centric networks like MTV and BET. Who won? Neither; the relatively unknown classical instrumentalist/singer Esperanza Spalding.
A favorite of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, she's also recently toured with Prince -- after being hand-picked by The Artist for his BET Awards tribute last year.
Primarily known as a jazz bassist, the Portland, Oregon native has served a professor at Berklee College of Music and has recorded with M. Ward.
She, herself, seemed shocked at the big win. "Thank you to the Academy for even nominating in this category," she gushed as she approached the podium. "Thank you to the beautiful family of musicians I'm so blessed to be a part of ...I take this honor to heart so sincerely and I'll do my damndest to make a whole lot of great music for all of you. It's such a blessing and an honor. God bless."
Spalding, 26, joins a growing list of music superstars who won the honors over the years, including Bette Midler, Natalie Cole, Jody Watley, Sade, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, Carrie Underwood, Adele, and John Legend, who introduced her for the award.
Her third album, 'Chamber Music Society,' was recorded last year and received critical acclaim in the classic music genre featuring her ethereal vocals and upright bass playing.
Below are other noteworthy scenes from the '53rd Annual Grammy Awards':
The show opened with the much-anticipated salute to Aretha Franklin, which consisted of a video montage of her glittery performances throughout the years and LL Cool J stepping out to 'Freeway of Love.' It was true Sisters With Voices as all five women (Jennifer Hudson, Yolanda Adams, Christina Aguilera, Martina McBride and Florence Welch) belted out Aretha classics 'Respect,' 'Ain't No Way,' 'Think' and 'Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves.'
Lady Gaga emerged from her Mork from Ork-esque egg shaped cocoon to perform her new song 'Born This Way.' She looked and sounded like a cross between 1980s Madonna and 1990s Marilyn Manson – with a dash of vintage Christina Aguilera. Towards the end of her thrilling performance, Gaga and 10 dancers emulated a scene from Alvin Ailey's timeless 'Revelations' dance.
'American Idol' host Ryan Seacrest introduced "one of those moments that only happen at the Grammys;" alternative/pop-centric black music acts Bruno Mars, B.O.B and Janelle Monae, performing a stripped down version of his chart-topper 'Nothin' On You' replete with a trio of violinists. The set went black & white for a retro-style performance of Mars singing a revamped version of his monster hit, 'Grenade.' He sang his face off. And then things kicked it into high gear as Monae belted out her up-tempo romp 'Tightrope.' Dressed in her trademark, dapper dude get-up, the Kansas native brought much energy to the room as she offered her vocal highs – she even surfed the audience while Mars banged on the drums and B.O.B. rocked out on guitar. The crowd was on its feet for all three of the Atlantic Records-associated acts.
Eva Longoria introduced Justin Bieber and Usher, who revisited their 2007 meeting. After Bieber sang a little of his 'Baby, Baby' song while playing the guitar on a stool, Asian drummers came out from the audience as he sang 'Never Say Never' with 'Karate Kid' star Jaden Smith joining him onstage. And from the smoke Usher rose, twirling and vogueing before doing a military style dance in a royal blue outfit and singing 'OMG'. Bieber joined in on the pyrotechnic action towards the end.
Lady Gaga gave a special mention to Whitney Houston, whom she imagined singing the song 'Born This Way' when she wrote it because she was secure enough with herself to imagine being a superstar.
David Letterman did a Top 10 Surprises At The 2011 Grammy Awards riff, joking about Jay-Z, Willie Nelson, Lindsay Lohan, will.i.am, Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum, John Mayer, Susan Boyle and Justin Bieber.
In a very brief tribute to the late R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, Lady Antebellum sang country-style version of 'If You Don't Know Me By Now' before singing their hit song.
Academy and Grammy Award winner Jamie Foxx brought much fervor to his introduction to Cee Lo Green, who was accompanied by Jim Henson's puppets and Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow. All done up in giant sunglasses, loud color feathers and a bejeweled headdress, the former Gnarls Barkley frontman channeled 1970s era Elton John. He seemed to leave the expletives to left Paltrow, who wore a black cat suit with a plunging neckline accentuated with multicolored Christian Louboutins and hot pink feather earrings. Cee Lo had the crowd until he stood up and revealed that he was actually dressed as super-sized puppet. *blank stare*
Late artists such as Lena Horne, James Moody, Charlie Louvin, Bobby Hebb, Teena Marie, Gregory Isaacs, Harvey Fuqua,, Gladys Horton, Eddie Fisher, Alex Hilton, Albertina Walker, Walter Hawkins and Solomon Burke had fitting tributes to them during the In Memoriam segment. Hip hop pioneer Keith "Guru" Elam (of GangStarr fame) was noticeably absent from the montage. He passed away April 19, 2010.
Bringing the energy from somber to spirited, the one and only Mick Jagger – wearing a cape and tennis shoes. – paid a musical homage to his late friend Burke; he and neo-soul maestro Raphael Saadiq lifted the crowd to its feet with the feel good anthem, 'Everybody Need Somebody to Love.'
Three-time Grammy winner Kris Kristofferson introduced his 'A Star Is Born' co-star Barbara Streisand, who sang her 1976 Grammy and Academy Award winning ballad 'Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)'
Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am and hip hop "it girl" Nicki Minaj introduced Rap Album of The Year, which Eminem took the trophy for. He thanked Rihanna for helping propel the album "to where it's at right now and what it's doing" before mentioning Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, Interscope Records and the fans.