The Foo Fighters captured five Grammys and Adele won four, including the song of the year trophy for "Rolling in the Deep," at a Grammy ceremony that had the difficult task of celebrating music's best while mourning the loss of one of their greatest, Whitney Houston.
Houston's death on the eve of the awards forced a delicate balance between the exuberance of the show's winners and performances with the loss.
Adele, who owned the year's best-selling album with "21," was triumphant in her first performance since vocal cord surgery forced the cancellation of a tour and months of vocal rest. As the world wondered whether her voice would still soar, she answered with her performance of her hit "Rolling in the Deep," and received a sustained standing ovation from the crowd.
The song also won her one of the night's most prestigious awards, song of the year. Another song from that album, "Someone Like You," earned her best pop solo performance.
"I can't believe I'm getting emotional already," she said after picking up the latter award. "And seeing as it's a vocal performance, I need to thank my doctors, I suppose, who brought my voice back."
Adele's CD "21" also won best pop vocal album. The night's other big winners, the Foo Fighters, noted that they made their album "Wasting Light" in a garage.
"To me this award means a lot because it shows that the human element of making music is what's most important. Singing into a microphone, learning to play an instrument and learning to do your craft, that's the most important thing for people to do," he said as the band accepted their best rock performance trophy for "Walk." ''It's not about being perfect. It's not about sounding absolutely correct. It's not about what goes on in a computer. It's about what goes on in here (your heart) and what goes on here (your head). ... Long live rock 'n' roll!"
Among the evening's performances was a dance-heavy number by Chris Brown, a performance by Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen, who kicked off the show by performing his new song "We Take Care of Our Own," a rousing song that references the troubles of the nation.
But the evening's most moving moment came as Jennifer Hudson - who has called Houston an inspiration and one of her biggest idols - emerged to sing one of Houston's signature songs, "I Will Always Love You." Dressed in black, with only the accompaniment of a piano, Hudson appeared to fight back tears as she sang the song, ending with the line, "Whitney, we will always love you."
The show started off on a somber note, as host LL Cool J appeared in black, and told the audience: "There is no way around this. We've had a death in our family."
He then led the audience in prayer to "our fallen sister, Whitney Houston.
"Heavenly father, we thank you for sharing our sister Whitney with us," he said, as celebrities like Lady Gaga and Miranda Lambert bowed their heads in prayer. "Though she is gone too soon, we remain truly blessed to have been touched by her beautiful spirit."
He introduced a clip of a glowing Houston singing "I Will Always Love You." LL Cool said afterward. In his performance of "Runaway Baby," Bruno Mars also mentioned the death: "Tonight we're celebrating. Tonight we're celebrating the beautiful Miss Whitney Houston."
And Stevie Wonder said: "To Whitney up in heaven, we all love you."
Houston died on the eve of the Grammys at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where she was preparing to attend a pre-Grammy party. Still, while Houston's death cast a shadow over the night's winners, it did not obscure them. Among them was Chris Brown, who was performing on the stage for the first time since he dropped out of 2009's broadcast; his attack on Rihanna the night before led to both their absences, an assault charge for Brown and a career low.
But 2011 marked an amazing comeback for Brown and he was rewarded with two planned performances during the show, the first time he and Rihanna performed at the same event since the attack (she sang solo and with Coldplay during the ceremony).
Brown also won best R&B album: "First and foremost, I gotta thank God, and thank the Grammys for letting me get on this stage and do my thing," he said "All my fans, I love you. We got one. Thank you."
Justin Vernon, whose band Bon Iver beat Nicki Minaj, The Band Perry, J. Cole and Skrillex for best new artist, accepted the award with admittedly mixed emotions.
"It's really hard to accept this award. Well, there's so much talent out here, like on this stage. There's a lot of talent that's not here tonight. It's also hard to accept because when I started to make songs I did it for the inherent reward of making songs, so I'm a little bit uncomfortable up here," he said. "But with that discomfort I do have a sense of gratitude. I want to say thank you to all the nominees, all the non-nominees that have never been here and never will be here."
The Grammys did their best to keep a tone that balanced the many moods of the night: The Foo Fighters performed in a tent outside the Staples Center, where the awards were being held, amid a throng of bouncing fans; but moments earlier, Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt paid tribute to Etta James, the legend who died last month.
There was also a tribute to the recently reunited Beach Boys that featured Maroon 5, Foster the People and Mike Love, Al Jardine and Brian Wilson, the three remaining members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, all pitch-perfect as they brought the groups California rock sound and harmonies back to life.
Glen Campbell, who announced his retirement last year after disclosing he had Alzheimer's disease, also performed withThe Band Perry and Blake Shelton, singing his classic hit, "Rhinestone Cowboy."