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In surprise, Herbie Hancock wins album of the year

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  • Herbie Hancock wins album of the year
  • Amy Winehouse wins song of the year, record of year, best new artist
  • Vince Gill wins best country album; Foo Fighters win best rock album
  • Kanye West wins best rap album, gives powerful performance

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By Todd Leopold
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(CNN) -- It looked like it was going to be all Amy Winehouse -- until the end.

Herbie Hancock also won best contemporary jazz album for "River: The Joni Letters."

Winehouse, the troubled singer and songwriter who was let out of rehab to perform via satellite at the 50th annual Grammy Awards Sunday night, took home awards in five of the six categories in which she was nominated, including three of the big four general categories: record of the year, song of the year (both for "Rehab") and best new artist.

But when it came time for the final announcement, album of the year, the award went to 67-year-old jazz legend Herbie Hancock for "River: The Joni Letters," his album of Joni Mitchell interpretations.

The decision appeared to shock many, though Hancock wasn't caught off-stride. Video Watch the night's highlights »

In his acceptance, the pianist, who had earlier co-performed George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," paid tribute to a number of his predecessors, most notably mentor Miles Davis.

"I'd like to thank the Academy for courageously breaking the mold this time, in doing so, honoring the giants upon whose shoulders I stand, some of whom like Miles Davis, John Coltrane ... unquestionably deserved the award in the past," Hancock said. "But this is a new day, that proves that the impossible can be made possible."

"River" is the first jazz album to win album of the year since Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto's 1964 "Getz/Gilberto" pulled off the trick. The two works are the only jazz albums to have done so.

Still, Winehouse can consider it a good night. Besides her Grammys, the singer performed a biting medley of "You Know I'm No Good" and "Rehab" via satellite and seemed genuinely thrilled for the honors she received. Photo Gallery: Check out the stars in their finery »

Upon winning record of the year, just after her performance, she appeared unaware the cameras were on her as she and her band whooped it up after winning record of the year. But she recovered, giving a rousing thank-you speech in which she said the award was for "my mom and dad, for my Blake, my Blake incarcerated, and for London!" "Blake" is her husband Blake Fielder-Civil, currently behind bars awaiting trial on assault and trial-fixing charges.

Kanye West, who received eight nominations total, won best rap album for his "Graduation," giving him four wins.

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West gave a powerful performance of "Stronger" and "Hey Mama." The latter song, in particular, was written for his mother and appeared on West's 2005 album "Late Registration." Donda West died November 10 of a heart attack after surgery.

"I appreciate all the support, I appreciate all the prayers," he said regarding his mother while accepting the best rap album award. Then, addressing his mother, he said, "I know you want me to be the No. 1 artist in the world. And, Mama, all I'm gonna do is keep making you proud."

Vince Gill's "These Days" won best country album, an award presented to him by Ringo Starr.

"I just had an award given to me by a Beatle," Gill said with wonder, and then looked at West -- who's often been vocal at a perceived lack of mainstream industry acceptance -- in the audience. "Have you had that happen yet, Kanye?"

West smiled as the audience burst into laughter.

The Foo Fighters' "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace" won best rock album.

"This doesn't get old," frontman Dave Grohl said, dedicating the Grammy to his daughter Violet, who "inspired me to write this record."

The first award of the night, female R&B performance, went to Alicia Keys, who also opened the show with a "duet" with a virtual Frank Sinatra, captured on video in an old performance. The pair sang "Learnin' the Blues."

"I hope to one day be as classic as he [is]," she told CNN on the red carpet. Video Watch Keys describe her Grammy thrills »

The night's performances ranged from stirring -- West's "Stronger"/"Hey Mama," a duet featuring Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli, and a John Fogerty-Jerry Lee Lewis-Little Richard medley of classics were highlights -- to offbeat, including a Beatles tribute from Cirque du Soleil and the film, "Across the Universe," and a lighthearted duet of "That Old Black Magic" between Keely Smith and Kid Rock.

The evening's other winners included Bruce Springsteen, who received three Grammys, including best rock song for "Radio Nowhere," as well as the White Stripes, Justin Timberlake and Mary J. Blige.

Also earning a Grammy was Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who defeated two presidents -- Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter -- to take home the award for best spoken-word album. Obama won for his book, "The Audacity Of Hope: Thoughts On Reclaiming The American Dream."


For Hancock, the Grammy fulfills a dream of his own. The jazzman had won 10 Grammys going into the night's ceremony, but never album of the year.

"I don't pay attention to pigeonholes," he told CNN recently. This time, neither did the Recording Academy. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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