Soul singer Adele triumphed in her return to music's stage on Sunday, scooping up six Grammys and winning every category in which she was nominated including album of the year for "21" and best record with "Rolling In the Deep."
As joyous as the show was for Adele, it was equally as serious with tributes to late pop star Whitney Houston, who died suddenly on Saturday. She was remembered by fellow artists in acceptance speeches and songs. Jennifer Hudson sang Houston's signature hit, "I Will Always Love You," and Grammy host LL Cool J offered a prayer for Houston's family, friends and fans.
But it was Adele who stole the show. The 23-year-old, who has taken the music world by storm, underwent surgery on her vocal cords late last year and had been resting her voice on doctor's orders until music's biggest night. For the first time since then, the British singer took the stage to belt out "Rolling In the Deep" and finished to a standing ovation.
Adele claimed three of the music industry's top awards - album, record and song of the year - and added best pop solo performance, pop vocal and short video to her stack of trophies.
Tearing up and having difficulty speaking as she took the stage to claim the night's top award, album of the year, Adele talked about "21" and its heartfelt songs dreamed up after a failed love affair.
"This record is inspired by something that is really normal and everyone's been through it, just a rubbish relationship, and it's gone on to do things I can't tell you how I feel about it, it's been the most life-changing year."
Indeed, her sophomore album has sold more than 6.3 million copies in the United States and broken many sales records, including spending 19 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. Now it can add the Grammys to its many accolades.
Rockers Foo Fighters were the other big winners, picking up five Grammys including best rock performance for the 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 audience was for Adele and as much as Foo Fighters rocked the house, Grammy organizers were equally as serious about Houston, whose body was found in the bathtub of her Beverly Hills hotel room. The cause is still unknown.
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.
MANY WINNERS, REMEMBERING WHITNEY
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 the singer.
"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.
Other major Grammy winners included country's Taylor Swift, who picked up Grammys for solo performance and country song with "Mean," which she performed to a standing ovation. She had been expected to take best country album, too, but Lady Antebellum swooped in and took that prize with "Own the Night."
The other big surprise came when indie folk band Bon Iver took the Grammy for best new artist over rapper Nicki Minaj, who had been widely expected to win behind hit album "Pink Friday."
DJ Skrillex won two Grammys for best dance recording and top dance/electronica album with "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites."
Jay-Z and Kanye West won 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."
West entered the night with seven nominations, more than any other artist, but came away with the Grammy for "Otis" and another for best rap album with "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."
Rousing performances were given by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Chris Brown, Coldplay and Rihanna, Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson. Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt sang a duet of "A Sunday Kind of Love" from Etta James, who also died in 2012.
Minaj gave fans an over-the-top performance toward the show's final act, and Sir Paul McCartney ended in a guitar-heavy number with Springsteen, Grohl and others. Memorable moments came in a reunion of members of the Beach Boys and a lifetime award for Glen Campbell, who sang "Rhinestone Cowboy."
Finally, one of the show's more poignant moments came early in the day when Mitch and Janis Winehouse, parents of the late singer Amy Winehouse who died of excessive drinking in 2011, accepted the award for best pop duo or group performance - Amy Winehouse and Tony Bennett for "Body and Soul."
"Long live Whitney Houston. Long live Amy Winehouse and long live Etta James," Mitch Winehouse said, referring to the "At Last" singer who died earlier this year. "There's a beautiful girl band up there."