CENTURY CITY, Calif. — Buzz boy Eminem wasn't in the house … but Elton John was. So, too, were Macy Gray, Shelby Lynne, Ziggy Marley, Stevie Wonder, and others to salute Grammy perennial Paul Simon as Person of the Year for MusiCares, the charity arm of the Grammys.
Simon — who won Album of the Year once with Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water) and twice solo (Graceland and Still Crazy After All These Years) — is nominated this year for an unprecedented fourth time, for the slow-selling You're the One.
But Monday's gala fundraiser was about honoring his catalog and raising money for MusiCares' many causes, which include paying electricity bills, finding drug rehab, and building a home (Encore Hall) for senior musicians.
MusiCares, founded in 1989, handed out more than $1 million in aid to musicians in the past year. On Monday, the Grammy folks handed Simon a $100,000 check for his own charity, Children's Health Fund, which he co-founded in 1986 to provide medical care to needy New York children.
Aside from accepting the check, Simon mostly listened, and his wide-eyed wife, Edie Brickell, watched in awe as special guest singers rendered his classic songs with better voice than the originals.
Wonder was wondrous on "Loves Me Like a Rock," backed by gospel stalwarts the Dixie Hummingbirds; Marley lent some reggae rhythms for "Mother and Child Reunion;" Ruben Blades rescued an impassioned bilingual piece from the failed Broadway musical The Capeman; and Shawn Colvin soloed courageously on "American Tune."
Bluesy singer Joan Osborne got wistful on "Homeward Bound," backed by Irish folk institution the Chieftains, and Beach Boy guru Brian Wilson made it through "Sounds of Silence."
Country-blues stylist Shelby Lynne, up for the Best New Artist Grammy, challenged the crowd with the less-than-familiar "Tenderness" (from There Goes Rhymin' Simon) — and with her Jennifer Lopez-can-you-top-this outfit, complete with a plunging neckline. Gray was sartorially splendid in a red patchwork leather outfit, doing "Call Me Al" with emcee Chevy Chase miming a saxophone onstage, in reference to the Simon music video in which he appeared.
After an hour or so of covers and speeches by Chase, Steve Martin, Michael McKean, and Elton John, Simon sang three of his classics, "Graceland," "Late in the Evening," and "The Boxer." John praised the man of the moment for being "incapable of writing a bad song. I admire your integrity. I admire everything about you except that shirt," which was plain and brown.
John didn't indicate if he voted for You're the One for Album of the Year. And, curiously, Simon didn't even offer one tune from the disc that few Grammy voters have probably heard, though he's scheduled to perform at the big show tomorrow night. In fact, two high-powered attendees at the gala said they voted for Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP — record executive Steve Greenberg, the man behind Hanson and the Baha Men, and Grammy activist David Foster, the producer-songwriter known for his work with Celine Dion and Whitney Houston.
After honoring Simon on Monday, will the Academy ask the real Slim Shady to "please stand up" on Wednesday?