Norah Jones sweeps Grammys

(2/24/03, 7 a.m. ET) -- Norah Jones was the big winner at the 45th Annual Grammy Awards, personally taking five awards in her first-ever Grammy appearance, including the coveted album of the year award for Come Away With Me, while her album earned three additional trophies. "I feel really blessed and really lucky," said Jones after winning for album of the year.

The 23-year-old daughter of internationally renowned sitar player Ravi Shankar and NY concert producer Sue Jones also received honors for pop vocal album, best new artist, and record of the year and female pop vocal performance for "Don't Know Why." Jones won every category in which she was nominated, tying Lauryn Hill (who did it at age 23 in 1999) and Alicia Keys (who did it at age 21 in 2002) for the most wins by a female artist in a single night..

The 23-year-old Norah Jones (shown pictured above with half sister Anouska Shankar) was born in New York City but soon moved with her mother Sue Jones to Grapevine, Texas. She displayed musical talent early, singing in the church choir at 5, starting piano lessons at 7 and studying alto saxophone in junior high school. Her musical influences include Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Etta James.

Songwriter/arranger Jones teamed up with renowned producer Arif Mardin for her debut album, Come Away With Me. The album, which features Jones on electric piano and smoky vocals in a blend of jazz, soul, country and folk-pop, continues to do well on Billboard charts since its February release.

Age: 23 Jones won Down Beat magazine's Student Music Award for Best Jazz Vocalist two years in a row. Jones went to New York City's Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, alma mater of soul diva Erykah Badu.

The picture of Natalie Maines standing up in applause for Eminem talking to one of her Chickmates shows that she's a real rock, as one guy mentioned on the Sammy and Bob Show today.

A contrarian view: Jones' sweep of the Grammys' big categories was the evening's shocker. The daughter of Ravi Shankar certainly made a beautiful record, but it did not deserve to beat Bruce Springsteen, Eminem and the Dixie Chicks. Eminem's gripping performance of Lose Yourself with hip-hop band the Roots proved that the controversial rapper, not the pleasing singer, was clearly the artist of the year.

Of course, this is the Grammys' major failing -- the Recording Academy traditionally rewards genteel pleasures over provocative truths. That's why the show remains woefully out of step with pop's urban edge: Eminem has become the awards' token rapper, a recognition with disturbing racial implications.


The Ravi Shankar Sue Jones connection

The issue here is mainly to do with Jones's father, 82-year-old superstar sitar player Ravi Shankar. I am advised, a day before our interview, that Norah Jones will not answer questions on the subject, and when I point out that it wouldn't be a bad idea to at least clear up the inaccuracies, I am asked to put my questions in writing. Although I end up driving miles to meet Jones in the desert, we are, it turns out, staying in the same Los Angeles hotel. So I find myself slipping a list of questions under her PR's door the night before. When we meet, Jones sheepishly and rather sweetly thanks me for them, and says she would prefer to answer them in writing. She apologises for the rigmarole, and says her parents are private people and don't like to be written about. Other than that, we do not speak about her father.

It's possible that this creates more fuss about Shankar than is strictly necessary. He is famous but, these days, so is she. He plays the sitar; she's a young singer-songwriter who performs jazz and soulful pop-country crossover. She has her own, separate musical pedigree: she went to Booker T Washington High School in Texas, where Erykah Badu was also a student; her debut album was produced by Arif Mardin, the man behind Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield. Most people who have bought Jones's album are probably a lot more interested in her than they are in her father. But, for the record, this is how she grew up.

Jones's mother, Sue Jones, who has been a dancer, producer and a nurse, had a nine-year relationship with Ravi Shankar, towards the end of which Norah was born. She saw her father a few times a year until she was nine, and then not until she was 18, when she was introduced to her 16-year-old half-sister Anoushka, now a Shankar-trained classical sitar player with three albums under her belt, and of whom Jones is very proud. 'My mom and I have always been very close,' Jones wrote to me a few days after our interview. 'She is my best friend. She had to make a lot of sacrifices early on in my life to make sure I got to do what I wanted to do. Although I love my dad very much, I did only spend a fraction of my adolescence around him. This is probably why I try to downplay our relationship in the press. When misquotes start flying around, inevitably someone's feelings get hurt, and I didn't get into music to have family business printed in the press. I love my dad, and I think he's a brilliant musician. I just want to make my music, and I want it to stand on its own.'

Jones's music is exceptionally good. Her songwriting, and that of her friend Jesse Harris and her boyfriend Lee Alexander (who plays bass in her band, and whom she met three years ago when she moved to New York), has a sleepy, rocking ease to it, and her rich, sweet voice has had critics comparing her to Billie Holiday, though it's closer to the sounds of Dusty in Memphis.

As a child she listened to her mother's records: Etta James, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. As a student she won music awards two years running for singing jazz standards, and now, when I ask her what she's listening to, she says 'AC/DC!' and laughs. 'When I was writing music I was going out and listening to a lot of music, and it was exciting and inspiring. Part of the reason why I haven't written new songs is that I haven't really had that. I need to balance that a bit more.'



Best bet: Norah Jones Jones' official site includes her discography, news, live audio and video, Mp3s, photo gallery, press reviews and tour dates.

Blue Note: Norah Jones (requires Flash) Blue Note record label's site includes her biography, music samples and small photo gallery.

VH-1 Norah Jones: Inside Track Includes biography, interview, videos, TV appearances and a list of similar artists.

Unofficially Norah Jones This interactive fan site includes gig reviews, album lyrics, forums, polls and links to her bandmembers' sites.

Anoushka Shankar Here's the Web site of Jones' half-sister who, following in their father's footsteps, has become a renowned sitarist.