Hill, Madonna, Dion Make It Women’s Night

Hill, Dion split major awards; Madonna cleans up in variety of categories.

It was women’s night at the Grammy Awards Wednesday (Feb. 24), with Lauryn Hill, Madonna and Celine Dion emerging as the big winners.

“This is so amazing; thank you, God,” said a visibly moved Hill, who led the pack with five Grammys, including the Album Of The Year award for her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The Fugees singer/rapper also won the Best New Artist award.

She was delighted albeit insecure at the podium. At one point, she quoted from the Bible. At another, she said, “I’m bad at this,” as she was running down her list of people to thank. She told SonicNet Music News “It’s a beautiful thing, I can’t even tell you. It’s like I’m still dreaming.”

Dion won the Record of the Year award for “My Heart Will Go On,” which also earned Song of the Year for songwriters James Horner and Will Jennings. The Record of the Year category is for a single recording; the Song of the Year category is for a composition.

Madonna’s Ray of Light was named Best Pop Album. The album and its title song won four awards altogether, including Best Dance Recording and Best Short Form Video for the single. Before this year, Madonna had won only one Grammy.

But backstage, Madonna scoffed at the notion that this was the year of the woman.

Scrunching up her nose at the suggestion, Madonna took the opportunity to pay homage to her forebears in pop.

“I have to say I followed a lot of incredible women myself,” she said. “I followed Deborah Harry [Blondie], Chrissie Hynde [the Pretenders] and Joni Mitchell, and I hope that many more follow me as I followed them.”

Dressed in a red geisha costume, Madonna opened the show with an Asian-influenced performance of “Nothing Really Matters,” another song from Ray of Light.

Dion, in a studded gown, performed a passionate duet with blind Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, a nominee for Best New Artist. Hill ended the night with a animated and passionate performance of “To Zion” (RealAudio excerpt), accompanied by guitarist Carlos Santana. Hill told SonicNet Music News it felt “crazy to perform … your head is just … ” Hill then held her head and made an exclamation of joy: “Woo!”

Hill, who was nominated for 10 awards overall, also won the awards for Best R&B Album and Best R&B Song, as well as Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “Doo Wop (That Thing).”

In the Record of the Year category, Dion’s single beat out “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls, Madonna’s “Ray Of Light,” “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica and “You’re Still The One” by Shania Twain.

Alanis Morissette and Lenny Kravitz won for Best Female and Male Rock Vocal Performance for “Uninvited” and “Fly,” respectively.

Sheryl Crow’s self-produced The Globe Sessions was named Best Rock Album.

Jay-Z, who wasn’t at the ceremony, won the Best Rap Album trophy for Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life.

Damon Dash, the rapper’s business partner, said earlier Wednesday that Jay-Z didn’t show up because he was upset by the “disrespect shown to rap by the academy.”

While Hill, who performed “To Zion” on the telecast, is considered a hip-hop artist, there were no actual rap performances on the show, and only one rap award — to Will Smith, for Best Rap Solo Performance — was handed out on TV.

Most awards in all categories were announced in a pre-show ceremony Wednesday afternoon.

The show was driven by a number of performances. Gospel artist Kirk Franklin was joined by U2 singer Bono, R&B performers R. Kelly and Mary J. Blige and gospel singer Crystal Lewis for a rendition of his ballad “Lean On Me,” which was nominated and lost in the Song of the Year category.

Veteran rockers Aerosmith performed their #1 hit “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” and won a rock performance award for another song, “Pink.”

Rock songwriter Sheryl Crow, country singer Vince Gill, former Menudo member Ricky Martin, and famed opera singer Luciano Pavarotti also performed.

While Twain’s performance was well-received, country trio the Dixie Chicks beat her out for Best Country Album.

“We thought for sure Shania got it,” said Dixie Chick Martie Seidl of the trio. “I mean, she just performed.”

“It’s all right — everyone can say the word chick now,” group member Emily Erwin said confidently after the show.

Twain won in two other categories.

While nothing was on a par with Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s interruption of Shawn Colvin’s performance last year or the famous “Soy Bomb” jig during Bob Dylan’s performance last year, the ceremony did have its lighter moments.

Rapper Will Smith, upon winning the Best Rap Solo Performance award for “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” announced that his 6-year-old son‚s teacher said the boy is “down on his rhyming skills.”

“There’s always law school, son,” Smith said.

Madonna and producer William Orbit traded lighthearted barbs during their acceptance speech for Best Pop Album. “I haven’t actually had a lingering desire to have one of these things,” Orbit said of the trophy.

Crow, however, spoke in solemn tones. She lamented that her label, A&M Recordings, had been gutted by the recent merger between Polygram and Universal Records.

“A&M had a real history as a label that develops its artists,” Crow said to an approving crowd.

Lifetime Achievement Awards were given to soul and R&B greats Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Smokey Robinson, as well as to crooner Mel Torme, country singer/songwriter Johnny Cash and jazz pioneer Duke Ellington. Ellington was posthumously serenaded by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, singer Natalie Cole and former Ellington trumpet player Clark Terry.

(Senior Editor Matt Melucci and Contributing Editor Teri vanHorn contributed to this report.)