- Associated Press - Sunday, February 13, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Train, who had one of the year’s top songs with “Soul Sister” but found themselves shut out of contention for song or album of the year, got a major consolation prize Sunday as they took home a trophy for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocals for the live version of their ubiquitous song.

“Thanks Justin Bieber for not being a duo or group,” said joked frontman Pat Monahan in the trio’s acceptance speech. “Soul Sister” was ineligible for contention in other categories because it had been released in advance of the eligibility requirements.

The award was sandwiched between two over-the-top performances _ a tribute to an ailing diva and a gay-pride statement by a new one.

Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride, best new artist nominee Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, and gospel singer Yolanda Adams gave their soulful, riffing best in an ear-popping tribute to a recovering Aretha Franklin that kicked off the show.

The Queen of Soul, who had surgery for an undisclosed ailment late last year, made her first televised appearance before a national audience. Dressed in white, a healthy looking Franklin thanked well-wishers for their prayers and cards in a taped segment: “I wish that I could have been with you all tonight, but since I couldn’t, next year.”

That performance was followed shortly afterward by a typically over-the-top one by Lady Gaga. She debuted her new anthem “Born This Way” by being “born”: She appeared out of an “Alien”-looking cocoon and seemed to transform into Madonna, circa 1987, as she pranced through the uptempo song, the first off her upcoming album.

With the performance-heavy show, it was easy to forget that actual awards were being given out. Jay-Z and John Legend were the early leaders, as both were awarded three trophies each during the show’s pre-telecast ceremony, where the bulk of the 109 Grammy trophies were given out.

Other multiple winners included Usher, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga, Jeff Beck and the Black Keys, who all won two apiece.

Eminem was the leading nominee with 10, but his chance of a huge Grammy sweep was diminished as he lost five of the awards in the pre-telecast ceremony. He still picked up one _ best rap solo performance, for “Not Afraid.”

Gospel legend Mavis Staples was a tearful winner as she picked up the first Grammy of her career, for best Americana album, for “You Are Not Alone.”

“That was the shock of my life. My goodness. It’s been a long time, a long time coming,” she said, breaking into tears.

Neil Young also won his first musical Grammy (he had won for best boxed box set in 2009). “I’m not Mavis, but I’m close,” he joked, as he held his trophy for best rock song for “Angry World.”

Other notable early winners included Bruno Mars, Rihanna, Cee Lo Green and Danger Mouse, who won producer of the year.

Eminem still had a chance to win the top awards of the evening, including the elusive (for him) album of the year category. But the gifted and twisted rapper might get tripped up by some fierce competition, including a song that rivals him for coarseness _ Green’s “(Expletive) You,” which is in competition with Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie,” featuring Rihanna, in the record and song of the year categories.

Eminem’s “Recovery” was 2010’s best-selling album and a favorite to win in the album category. It marked a major comeback for the rapper, considered one of the greatest but who had been addled by a prescription drug addiction and critical malaise in recent years. It is the third time he’s been nominated for album of the year; he’s lost twice before.

But he also faces tough competition in the category, from the likes of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” and Lady Gaga’s “The Fame Monster.” Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” are also nominated.

The live telecast will feature the top nominees, like record of the year. “Need You Now” is nominated in both song and the record of the year categories. Other nominees for record of the year include Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” the New York native’s anthem for his city featuring Alicia Keys, and rapper B.o.B’s “Nothin’ On You,” with a melodious hook courtesy of Bruno Mars.




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