Chili Peppers, Mary J. Blige Early Grammy Winners

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (February 11, 2007) — The Grammys kicked off with a retro feel on Sunday as the recently reunited Police opened the show with their classic “Roxanne,” Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder beat out huge new songs like “Promiscuous” and “Crazy” with a remake and the veteran Red Hot Chili Peppers nabbed three trophies to emerge the early leader.

Another veteran, Mary J. Blige, had three early wins, including R&B album of the year for her comeback album, “The Breakthrough.”

“For so many years I’ve been talked about negatively and this time I am being talked about positively by so many people,” said a tearful Blige, who has often discussed her past substance abuse andnegative self-image. She said the win showed not only how she had grown as an artist, but as a person.

Another tearful winner was Wonder, who dedicated his win with Tony Bennett for best pop collaboration to his late mother. They won for a rendition of Wonder’s “For Once In My Life.”

“This is an amazing moment for me. It’s amazing to know that I did this song when I was 17 a whole ‘nother way and to come back and do it with the great Tony Bennett,” he said.

Though not nominated, the Police, who are reuniting for a tour, kicked off the show in one of its most anticipated performances. The first-half hour was chock-full of live music, including Beyonce and the Dixie Chicks.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers won three Grammys, including best rock performance by a duo or group for “Dani California.” Gnarls Barkley’s two awards included a win for alternative music album. Another double winner was rapper T.I.

Blige also won best R&B song for “Be Without You, which is also nominated for record and song of the year. The Dixie Chicks, John Mayer, Justin Timberlake (with rapper T.I. for the song “My Love”) also won one each.

Carrie Underwood won best female country vocal performance for her hit “Jesus Take the Wheel.”

“This is my first Grammy! Hopefully the first of a few more,” said Underwood, the 2005 “American Idol” champ, who also singled out “Idol” creator Simon Fuller in her acceptance speech. (Last year, another “Idol” champ, Kelly Clarkson, was criticized for not paying tribute to her “Idol” roots.)

Irma Thomas, known as the Queen of New Orleans Soul and a Hurricane Katrina survivor, was a tearful winner for best contemporary blues album for “After the Rain.”

“First of all I want to say thank you God, and thank you New Orleans — 49 years you believed in me and it finally paid off,” she said.

Ike Turner also picked up a Grammy, for best traditional blues album, which his son produced. “Wow, I really don’t know what to say and I’m scared to death,” said the rock pioneer.

While Blige was the overall nominations leader with eight, 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 Timberlake, for his futuristic sounding club disc “FutureSex/LoveSounds”; Mayer’s “Continuum”; the 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.”

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 nominee 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 would 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.

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