British soul singer Adele won four early Grammys on Sunday, including song of the year for her smash hit Rolling in the Deep, in a show that began on a somber note with a prayer for late pop superstar Whitney Houston.
Adele, whose album 21 was among the smash hits of 2011, took the stage and thanked her doctors, who performed surgery on her throat last year. Seeing as it's a vocal performance I need to thank my doctors, I suppose, who brought my voice back, she said.
Aside from surgery, the British singer has enjoyed a stellar year. Her sophomore album 21 has sold more than 6.3 million copies in the U.S. and broken many sales records, including spending 19 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.
She has thrilled fans singing about personal heartbreak in a raw, soulful manner in singles including Rolling in the Deep, Someone Like You, which earned her a second Grammy for best solo pop performance, and Set Fire to the Rain.
Adele also sang for the first time in front of a public audience since her operation, belting out a rendition of Rolling In the Deep. She earned a standing ovation and basked in the limelight.
Rockers Foo Fighters were the other big winners early in the show, picking up five Grammys in rock music categories, including best rock performance for their hit Walk.
This is a great honor because this record was a special record for our band. Rather than go to the best studio ... we made this one in my garage with some microphones and a tape machine, said frontman Dave Grohl. It shows that the human element of making music is what's most important.
But as jubilant as the audiences was for Adele and as much as Foo Fighters rocked the house, the Grammys audience was equally serious about the death of Houston on Saturday in a Beverly Hills hotel room.
Host LL Cool J took the stage and offered a prayer for Houston, her fans and her family. Although she is gone too soon, we remain truly blessed by her musical spirit, he said.
Organizers played a video of Houston performing her hit I Will Always Love You from a previous Grammy show. Later, actress and singer Jennifer Hudson, who won an Oscar for her role in movie musical Dreamgirls, is expected to perform the same song in a tribute to the singer.
Grammy organizers give out awards in more than 75 categories and many early winners mentioned Houston. Singer Melanie Fiona, who won with Cee Lo Green for traditional R&B performance for Fool For You, said she was inspired by Houston.
Whitney Houston, I would not be standing up here if not for you, Fiona said. Backstage, she told reporters her mother had rocked her in the cradle to Houston's songs when she was a baby.
Major winners included Jay-Z and Kanye West for best rap performance with their song, Otis from the album Watch the Throne, but they failed to show up to claim their prize. Chris Brown won the Grammy for best R&B album F.A.M.E., and Lady Antebellum took home best country album with Own the Night.
Rousing performances came from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Chris Brown, Coldplay and Rihanna, Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson, and Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt sang a duet of A Sunday Kind of Love from Etta James, who also died in 2012.
Country singer Taylor Swift picked up two awards for her song Mean, about people she felt had wronged her, and DJ Skrillex won two Grammys for best dance recording and top dance/electronica album with Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.
Rapper Kanye West earned seven nominations, but was shut out of the top categories, paving the way for Adele to be the night's big winner - or surprise loser if she fails to overcome competition. Along with his rap performance trophy, West won a second award for best rap album with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Still to come were top awards including best album where Adele's 21 faces rockers Foo Fighters and their hit Wasting Light, Lady Gaga with Born This Way, Bruno Mars and his Doo-Wops & Hooligans, and pop star Rihanna with Loud.
Adele also figures prominently among nominees for record of the year where Rolling in the Deep squares off against rockers Bon Iver and Holocene, Bruno Mars for Grenade, Mumford & Sons with The Cave, and Katy Perry for Firework.
One poignant moment came early in the day when Mitch and Janis Winehouse, parents of late singer Amy Winehouse who died of excessive drinking in 2011, accepted the award for best pop duo or group performance - Amy and Tony Bennett - Body and Soul.
Long live Whitney Houston. Long live Amy Winehouse and long live Etta James, referring to the At Last singer who died earlier this year. There's a beautiful girl band up there.