Mary J. Blige, Dixie Chicks Lead Grammy Field

Mary J. Blige, the self-described Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, had a chance to become the Queen of the Grammys on Sunday with a leading eight nominations for her best-selling, critically acclaimed album, “The Breakthrough.”

While Blige wasn’t nominated for album of the year, she was up for the coveted record and song of the year trophies for her ballad “Be Without You.” Her other nominations included R&B album of the year.

While Blige was the overall Grammy leader, there were several contenders for a Grammy sweep. The Dixie Chicks were also comeback darlings and were nominated for a total of five awards for their album, “Taking the Long Way,” their first disc since the country backlash over lead singer Natalie Maines’ criticism of President Bush in 2003. The trio was nominated for album of the year, and also for record and song of the year for their defiant anthem, “Not Ready to Make Nice.”

Other contenders for album of the year included Justin Timberlake, for his futuristic sounding club disc

“FutureSex/LoveSounds”; John Mayer’s “Continuum”; the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Stadium Arcadium”; and “St. Elsewhere” from the duo Gnarls Barkley.

Gnarls Barkley had one of the year’s most infectious tunes with the psychedelic soul of “Crazy,” and the group was rewarded with four Grammy nominations, including a record and song of the year nomination for the tune. Besides Blige and the Dixie Chicks, the other record of the year nominees were British newcomer Corinne Bailey Rae for her sweet and soulful “Put Your Records On,” and another Brit, James Blunt, for his aching ballad “You’re Beautiful.”

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Both Rae and Blunt were nominated for best new artist, along with another British singer-songwriter, Imogen Heap, and teenage R&B singer Chris Brown. But former “American Idol” champ Carrie Underwood, who had an amazing year with her multiplatinum debut album, “Some Hearts,” was seen by many as the favorite to win.

Of course, being the favorite and actually winning are two different things, and finding out who will take a Grammy home was part of the evening’s drama. But the Recording Academy, now in its 49th year, was hoping to inject more excitement into the show with its contest, “My Grammy Moment,” in which three women were contending for the chance to sing onstage with Timberlake during his performance; the winner was to be determined by viewers and revealed during the show.

Another performance was also primed to be the most-talked about of the night: the reunion of The Police. The band split in 1984, and last performed together in 2003 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They are set to go on a comeback tour this year.

Other performers were to include Mayer and Blunt, who are each up for five Grammys; the Dixie Chicks, Blige, Brown, Shakira, Rae and the Chili Peppers.

Lifetime achievement Grammy Awards were presented at a Saturday night ceremony to The Doors, the Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, Maria Callas, Ornette Coleman, Bob Wills and Booker T. & the MG’s. Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, founders of A&M Records, were to be honored Sunday night with the Recording Academy’s President’s Merit Award for their contributions to popular music.

The main Grammy ceremony was to be aired live on CBS starting at 8 p.m. EST; however, the bulk of the 108 Grammys were to be handed out a few hours earlier in the pre-televised portion of the ceremony.

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