EARLY GRAMMY SHOW PUTS SPOTLIGHT ON SMALLER STARS.
Mariah Carey, Bruce Springsteen, Kanye West and U2 all got their earlier plaudits before the artists had ever entered the building, along with a United States senator, a heavy metal band whose group members appeared onstage masked, and two children's music producers whose last awards were bestowed 25 years ago.
A total of 97 awards were announced and handed out during the nearly 2 1/2 hours prior to the telecast of the 48th Annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center on Wednesday.
Comeback diva Mariah Carey picked three trophies, which ended her 16-year Grammy drought, including best contemporary R&B album for ``The Emancipation of Mimi.''
But mostly the afternoon session was a time to honor the classical, world music, reggae and spoken-word artists, rappers and gospel singers who wouldn't be part of the evening televised show.
Many of the winners were no-shows at the afternoon presentations, inducing the occasional quip from presenters (Best Polka Album winner Jimmy Sturr, a 15-time winner, was ``probably out polka-ing,'' said the Jars of Clay band member who accepted the award on Sturr's behalf.).
Diane Reeves, Amy Grant, Aimee Mann, Gladys Knight, Keith Urban and Delbert McClinton were among the other winners. Reggae artist - and Bob Marley's son - Damian Marley was a two-time winner, as was instrumentalist Billy Childs. Sen. Barack Obama (who was not present) took home the Grammy for best spoken-word album for his ``Dreams From My Father.''
The pre-show awards also presented an opportunity for Burt Bacharach to wax political - something he said he would never do from a stage - for traditional artists to be lauded for stepping outside their respective musical boxes, for the late Ray Charles to receive even more love and for God to be thanked and thanked again.
Italy's Laura Pausini said she took considerable pride both in her country and herself for being the first Italian woman to win a Latin rock Grammy for her album ``Escucha.''
``Italians are very dramatic, and I am too.'' said Pausini. ``At that moment (I heard my name) my legs fell down. As a good Italian woman, I have very big legs.''
Multiple Grammy winner Glen Ballard, a winner for producing Josh Groban's song ``Believe'' for the film ``The Polar Express,'' noted that the same song was a loser at the Oscars last year.
``We'd like to believe the Recording Academy got it right,'' said Ballard, who is working on the score of another film, ``Beowulf,'' with ``Polar Express'' director Robert Zemeckis.
Audio Adrenaline, the winners of the best rock gospel album, noted that the group's Grammy win was somewhat bittersweet since the band was breaking up due to vocal problems experienced by lead singer Mark Stuart.
``The Grammy is like a lifetime achievement award for us,'' said drummer Ben Cissell. ``It feels so good to see your high school teachers who thought you'd amount to nothing and you can be like, 'Check this out.'''
Recording engineer Bob Ludwig, nominated for two Grammys in the Surround Sound album category became confused and began thanking the team who worked on the Foo Fighters ``In Your Honor'' even though it was the Dire Straits album, ``Brothers in Arms - 20th Anniversary Edition'' that won. An abashed Ludwig corrected himself in the middle of his acceptance speech, said ``What can I say? Erase all that.''
Ludwig, who worked on the original album ``Brothers in Arms'' 20 years ago, noted the original was one of the first albums to be successfully recorded to CD.'' Early digital recordings got a bad rap,'' said Ludwig. ``This album kind of made the first compact disc format fly.''
The love fest for Ray Charles has officially bled into 2006 as the soundtrack album for the 2004 film ``Ray'' won Grammys for best compilation album and best soundtrack album. Co-producer Stuart Benjamin acknowledged Charles repeatedly on stage and backstage for ``letting us into his life musically and dramatically in order to put this together.''
Asked backstage for his opinion of the Kanye West-Jamie Foxx song ``Gold Digger,'' which contains Charles dialogue, however, Benjamin offered a terse ``no comment.''
Dennis Scott won a Grammy nearly a quarter of a century ago for producing ``Sesame Street Country.'' He duplicated the feat Wednesday for producing ``Songs from the Neighborhood - The Music of Mister Rogers.''
Fellow children's music producer Christopher Cerf also went nearly a quarter century between Grammys when he won the best spoken-word album for his work on ``Marlo Thomas and Friends: Thanks & Giving All Year Long,'' which benefits the children of St. Jude's Hospital.
Burt Bacharach, whose political themed instrumental album ``At This Time'' won the best pop instrumental Grammy, brought his 13 year-old son, Oliver, and 10-year old daughter, Raleigh, on stage with them. It was the thought of the world that his children would inherit, Bacharach said, that served as the inspiration for ``At This Time.''
``At one time, if the president had just gotten up and said 'I made a mistake, I take full blame for it. There are no weapons of mass destruction. Bear with me, and we'll get this together.''' said Bacharach, ``I never like to be lied to by a girlfriend or an agent and certainly not by the president of the United States.''
The 77-year-old Bacharach also noted that he seems to be developing a younger fan base.
``A lot of 11-year-old kids in this country who never knew my music until they went to see 'Austin Powers,''' said Bacharach. ``And being on 'America Idol' does not hurt.''
Evan Henerson, (818) 713-3651
(color) Finally emancipated from a 16-year Grammy drought, Mariah Carey performs at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards on Wednesday after picking up several awards. The first, untelevised part of the show highlighted the best classical, world, rap and gospel music of 2005.
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images