Two cheers

Culture | The Grammy Awards program showcased women, glitz, and Psalm 40

Issue: "Alan Keyes: Can he win?," March 13, 1999

The biggest winner at the Grammy Awards was Lauryn Hill, a 23-year-old newcomer, who was named Best New Artist and the winner of Best Album for her first solo recording, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She also racked up awards for Best R & B Album (that's for "rhythm and blues"), Best R & B Song, and Best R & B Vocal Performance. In her acceptance speeches, she was self-effacing and talked about God in front of all the beautiful people. "God is great," she said, and, "Thanks to God for honoring me." She went so far as to read Psalm 40:1-3, eliciting cheers from the mostly post-Christian audience: "I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord." Is Ms. Hill the breakthrough Christian artist? She has two illegitimate children, but plans to marry their father, Rohan Marley (son of reggae artist Bob Marley), of whom she says, "Our marriage right now is more a spiritual one." Still, her melody-enhanced rap is a bright light in the hip-hop scene, which has tended to wallow in nihilism and degradation. The words to the title track of her best-selling album describe her self-claimed conversion from a pointless former life. Other tracks on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill condemn her street-trash cronies and their worthless menfriends ("Doo Wop [That Thing]"), and forgive the same in "Forgive Them Father." Other cultural milestones in this year's Grammies include yet another "Year of the Woman." All five nominations in the Best Album category were women, as were four of five slots for Best Record. Another single mom-Madonna-won her first Grammies (Best Pop Album and Best Dance Recording) for "Ray of Light," a song supposedly about her baby daughter. Sheryl Crow won Best Rock Album for The Globe Sessions. And Celine Dion took Record of the Year for "My Heart Will Go On," the unsinkable theme song of Titanic. In country music, Shania Twain won Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her crossover hit, "You're Still the One." In her performance at the awards show, she and her band wore black vinyl outfits more suited to Heavy Metal than to down-home country, illustrating the extent to which Nashville is going pop. On the other hand, the Dixie Chicks, three women who got their start in the bluegrass scene, won Best Country Album. The artistic highlight of the evening was not Luciano Pavarotti belting out "Nessun d'Orma", even though the aging tenor still has high notes. Rather, it was the duo of Celine Dion and blind Italian tenor Andrea Boccelli, whose crystalline legato transcends any range. A strength of the awards ceremony was its honor for past masters. The centenary of Duke Ellington provided artists Clarke Terry, Natalie Cole, and Wynton Marsalis a platform for some of the smoothest jazz around. Lifetime achievement awards were given to Johnny Cash, Mel Torme, and others. Despite an abundance of culturally elite icons on the platform, the 1999 Grammies combined fresh faces and surprising artistry. That God was invoked by some of America's brightest talent was at once surprising, encouraging, and-in its sometimes superficiality-frustrating. But when the Grammy Awards show includes a Bible reading, it fuels the hope that American music is not completely vapid, at least not yet.

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