"Music's biggest night" opened with a larger-than-life production number: five throaty women singing a half dozen Aretha Franklin hits.
The Queen of Soul was hospitalized late last year for an undisclosed ailment -- she's denied it's cancer, but she hasn't been more specific -- and the Grammys paid tribute to the 18-time winner by booking Yolanda Adams, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride, Florence Welch (from Florence and the Machine) to belt out a few of the legend's signature songs.
The brassy production number quickly devolved into a contest of "I can sing louder and sassier than you can!" with Aguilera winning handily. She finished "Natural Woman" with her trademark inflation of syllables ("You're the key to my peace of mi-i-i-i-i-i-i-ind!"), then tore into "Ain't No Way" with such power and precision everyone should forget her National Anthem goof at the Super Bowl. Hudson looked bored but sounded strong on "Respect," ending with a hand on a hip and an Everest-level run up the scale.
After the performance, Franklin herself appeared in a video, looking shockingly thin but regal in a feathery white gown. (Last month, she told "Access Hollywood" that after the surgery she was "down to a rockin' [size] 16!") She thanked supporters for card and flowers "and most importantly your prayers during my time of hospitalization," promising to attend the Grammys in person next year.