LOS ANGELES -- For Lauryn Hill, it may have felt like a dream, but when she woke up Thursday morning (Feb. 25), the hip-hop songstress faced a pleasant reality: five Grammy awards to her name, after what was arguably the biggest night of her career.
Now she'll have to come to terms with the fact that, by nabbing five nods at the world's most prestigious music awards ceremonies, she set a new record for female artists.
"It's a beautiful thing, I can't even tell you. It's like I'm still dreaming," the elegantly dressed artist said backstage, after receiving the final and perhaps biggest award of the night: Album of the Year, for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She is the first hip-hop artist to win that award.
Other multiple winners included Madonna and Celine Dion; Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, Lenny Kravitz, Jay-Z and the Dixie Chicks also won major awards.
If Hill hadn't already entered the minds of music fans worldwide, the 41st Annual Grammy Awards undoubtedly made those unaware of her take notice. Hill, who was nominated for 10 awards overall, also scored for Best R&B Album and Best R&B Song, as well as Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Doo Wop (That Thing)." (RealAudio excerpt)
Hill eschewed the grandiose acceptance speeches and lengthy thank yous, preferring to let her music speak for her. With a performance of "To Zion" (RealAudio excerpt), she demonstrated her mastery of a multi-genre sound that has inspired both critics and colleagues.
Latin rock legend Carlos Santana began the song with an intricate classical guitar introduction and segued into a collage of jazz, hip-hop and R&B, as Hill delivered her soulful vocal. Performers and music industry powerhouses praised her talents throughout the night. "I want to say that I was incredibly delighted that Miss Lauryn Hill won Album of the Year. Let's leave it at that," said Michael Greene, president/CEO for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which administers the awards.
Upon accepting her award for Best Rock Album, Crow went so far as to announce she wanted Hill to produce her next album.
The afternoon began with the traditional red carpet walk for the hundreds of artists who accepted the invitation. Thousands of fans lined Jefferson Avenue in 80-degree temperatures and blue skies to cheer for their favorite performers, some peering into binoculars, other waving signs that read simply "Madonna!" or "I Love Billy." Shrieks erupted at the merest sight of a familiar face, as reporters lined up outside the massive white palace-like hall, hoping for an on-the-spot interview.
Cameras flashed like strobe lights, hands holding microphones reached over barriers, security milled about the walkway.
Meanwhile, the energy was building inside the auditorium on what has become music's Oscar night.
Madonna, who opened the show with a performance of her current single, "Nothing Really Matters," while dressed in a red geisha costume, also emerged a big winner: She nabbed four awards, including Best Pop Album for Ray of Light.
Before Wednesday, the chameleon-esque diva had never taken home a Grammy for her music; though she won Best Long Form Music Video in 1991 for "Madonna: Blonde Ambition World Tour Live."
Backstage, Madonna was notably pleased with her Grammy recognition. "I've been in the music business for 16 years, and this is my first Grammy," she said. "Actually, I won four tonight. You know, worth the wait."
Dion received three awards, including Record of the Year for her "Titanic" movie hit "My Heart Will Go On" (RealAudio excerpt). The soaring love ballad also won its songwriters, James Horner and Will Jennings, the Song of the Year Award.
Dion also delivered one of the night's many performances, along with Morissette, country singer Vince Gill, former Menudo member Ricky Martin and famed opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. Crow, who took home Best Rock Album for The Globe Sessions, took the stage, as well, to play a song. 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" (RealAudio excerpt), which was up for Song of the Year but did not win.
Veteran rockers Aerosmith performed their #1 hit "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" (RealAudio excerpt), and won a rock performance award for another song, "Pink." Backstage, they confirmed rumors they will perform at the upcoming Oscar film awards.
Morissette and Kravitz won for Best Female and Male Rock Vocal Performance for "Uninvited" and "Fly Away," respectively. "Uninvited" also scored Morissette a nod for her songwriting, by taking Best Rock Song.
Former Stray Cats frontman and swing artist Brian Setzer won Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal for his "Jump Jive An' Wail" (RealAudio excerpt) Standing on the red carpet prior to the show, Setzer said he's not sure he should take credit for pioneering the swing revival. "I mix it all into rock 'n' roll and whatever comes out, comes out."
Jay-Z, who wasn't at the ceremony, won the Best Rap Album trophy for Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life.
In the other two rap categories, the Beastie Boys won "Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group" for "Intergalactic" (RealAudio excerpt) and Will Smith won Best Rap Solo Performance for "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" (RealAudio excerpt).
"I expected not to win," Smith said backstage. "I was like, 'There's no way I'm gonna win this year, I won last year [the same nod for "Men In Black"]. The odds are against me. ... Life is just damn good."
Former Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant won the Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy for "Most High," while Metallica won Best Metal Performance for "Better Than You."
While Shania Twain's "You're Still The One" (RealAudio excerpt) won for both "Best Female Country Vocal Performance" and "Best Country Song," country trio the Dixie Chicks beat her out for Best Country Album, with Wide Open Spaces.
"We thought for sure Shania got it,". "I mean, she just performed," said Dixie Chick Martie Seidl, remarking on how several of the night's winners received their award immediately after performing.
The night's award presenters included Beck, the Backstreet Boys, Foxy Brown, Whitney Houston, Smashing Pumpkins' leader Billy Corgan, Garbage singer Shirley Manson, and Sting. Other winners included Los Super Seven, Lucinda Williams, the songwriting team of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, Brandy and Monica, Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton.
Artists nominated for multiple awards who left empty-handed included rockers Hole, Garbage, Goo Goo Dolls, Dave Matthews Band and R&B artist Maxwell.
While no incident was as memorable as Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard's interruption of Shawn Colvin's performance last year, or, during the same show, the infamous "Soy Bomb" jig during Bob Dylan's performance, the ceremony did have its lighter moments.
Rapper Will Smith, upon winning the Best Rap Solo Performance award, announced that his six-year-old son's teacher said the boy was doing well in math and all his other academics, but that he is "down on his rhyming skills."
"That's obvious parental neglect ... There's always law school, son," Smith quipped.
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.
Most awards were announced in a pre-show ceremony Wednesday afternoon.
As diehard fans waited outside the Shrine that night hoping for a last chance to see the stars, one notable Grammy guest made a clean getaway. "It was nice, real nice, but now I'm going to find my car," laughed legendary film director George Lucas, who walked across the street virtually unnoticed.
(SonicNet's Lisa Garibay contributed to this report.)