There were many magic moments as well as many surprises at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards, held in Los Angeles on Feb. 15. Once again, the Recording Academy put on a lavish production, honoring their peers for excellence in music.
Sunday, Feb. 14: Checking In:
Dr. Cherilyn Lee and Shelah Moody
My Grammy experience began on the Sunday before the awards ceremony , when my gal pal and “non-date” for the event, Dr. Cherilyn Lee and I picked up our tickets at the Staples Center.
Peter Moore and Jan Haust.
While waiting in line, we struck up a friendly conversation with two casually dressed men, Peter Moore and Jan Haust. who, unbeknownst to us, were Grammy nominated engineers from Canada who’d arrived with legendary producer Steve Berkowitz. The next time we saw the trio, they were suited up, coiffed and accepting the Grammy for Best Historical Album “The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol 11: Bob Dylan and the Band” live on the Grammy stage.
As I presented my identification and filled out the necessary paperwork to collect my Grammy tickets, I was told by the young man at the computer terminal that George Clinton, the high priest of funk, sat in the same chair I was sitting in to pick up his tickets the day before! As the Funkateer Number One would say, free your mind, and you ass will follow!”
During Grammy week, you will run into a lot of music industry movers and shakers; many who work behind the scenes to create the music As luck would have it, on our way out of the Staples Center, we ran into acclaimed producer Shannon Sanders, President of the Nashville chapter of the Recording Academy, who is known for his production work with India.Arie.
Monday, Feb. 15, 1 p.m., 58th Grammys Premiere Ceremony
Every year, my favorite part of the Grammy experience is the Premiere Ceremony, the non-televised, more intimate portion of the event where awards for jazz, R&B, reggae, classical, world music, regional roots and technical awards are presented off camera. This year, the Premiere Ceremony took place at the Microsoft Theatre, which is adjacent to the Staples Center.
A Salute to the Greats
The Ray Chew Orchestra opened the ceremony with a medley of hits by the music icons we lost at the beginning of the year, including Maurice White of Earth Wind and Fire (“Fantasy”), Natalie Cole (“This Will Be”) and David Bowie (“Let’s Dance”). Recording Academy chair John Poppo delivered the welcome, and I believe someone at one point, went over the house rules and the time limitations for winner acceptance speeches.
It was indeed a super cute moment when regal presenter Anoushka Shankar, nominee for Best World Music Album, announced the first award of the afternoon, which went to Taylor Swift for Best Pop Vocal Album –“1989.”
Jack Antonoff, one of the producers on “1989” accepted the award for Swift, who was in the middle of rehearsals for the televised ceremony. Onstage, he called the megastar on her cell phone to inform her that she had won. Here’s the gist of the dialogue that transpired.
Antonoff: “Taylor, this is Jack, I’m not doing a bit; we just won Best Pop Vocal Album!”
Swift (to her team): “We won Best Pop Vocal Album!”
Antonoff: “Like, I’m dead serious, I have the phone jammed into the mike; we won!”
Swift: “Is James Taylor there?”
Antonoff: (to the audience): “Is James Taylor here?”
Swift: “Can you tell James Taylor I love him?”
Swift: “Can somebody find James Taylor and tell him I love him?”
You see, not only was James Taylor also nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album, Tayor Swift is his namesake. How’s that for irony.
Side note: a big thank you to Swift and the Grammy production team for giving the audience small white bracelets that lit up during her performance of “Out of the Woods, turning the Staples Center into a sea of diamonds. Dear Taylor, if you reactivate my bracelet so I can wear it all day, I will stop following Yeezy on Twitter for an entire month!
It was a good year for women at the Grammys, of course Swift winning Album of the Year, Meghan Trainor winning Best New Artist and front woman Brittany Howard and Alabama Shakes winning Best Alternative Music Album (“Sound and Color”). Women also excelled in the jazz and instrumental categories.
Cecile McLorin Salvant
Hawaii native Keali’i Reichel, nominee for Best Regional Roots Album (“Kawaiokalena”) presented awards to Cecile McLorin Salvant, Best Jazz Vocal Performance--“For One to Love” and Maria Schneider Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocal, "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" recorded by the Maria Schneider Orchestra and David Bowie and Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album "The Thompson Fields.”
Twelve year-old nominee Joey Alexander may have been too young to attend many of the Grammy parties, but the Indonesian jazz prodigy delivered a performance of Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Dance” on the grand piano with the grace and mastery of the elders.
One of my proudest moments was seeing a group I have literally come of age with and interviewed many times--Morgan Heritage--win the Grammy for Best Reggae Album, “Strictly Roots.”
Morgan Heritage, who became known for fusing roots reggae with R&B and blues, have been consistently touring and recording since their first album, “Miracle,” was released in 1994. That was year I first saw them perform at Reggae on the River. Incidentally, Morgan Heritage was hot on the circuit last summer as part of the Marley family’s “Catch a Fire” tour and the Jamrock Reggae Cruise 2015. Lukes Morgan even toured as a sound engineer and manager of the up and coming band Raging Fyah.
The Ray Chew Orchestra played Bob Marley’s “One Love” as siblings Gramps, Peetah and Lukes Morgan, dressed in natty black suits, made their way to the podium to get their Grammy gold.
“Yeah, we comin’ from Jamaica, so we say, give thanks,” said Peetah. “First, we’d like to thank the Most High, Jah, for blessing us. We want to say thank you to Jamaica and thank you to our family in Brooklyn, New York where we were born and raised, and also Springfield, Massachusetts. We’d like to thank our fans in Africa, Europe—everywhere; reggae music is global, if you didn’t know, we’re gonna let you know. We want to thank everyone who participated on this album—our producers, songwriters, musicians, all of the guests— Eric Rachmany, Rebeloution, J. Boog, Jamere Morgan, Gil Sharone. Shaggy and Chronixx. We want to thank our parents, bless up, our sister, Una, big up yourself, Mr. Mojo, big up yourself, Jamaica, big up unu self. We want to thank VP Records, which have been our label over the years, Randy Chin, Christy Barber. We’d like to thank the Marley family—our friends, our brothers. In Jamaica, when we feel good, and this is making us feel good, we say irie mon, seen? Irie!”
“Yeah mon, we are happy to be here amongst the best in music, from songwriters to engineers to musicians,” said Gramps Morgan. “Big up to all of the nominees—Rocky Dawuni, Barrington Levy, Luciano, Jah Cure. This one’s for Jamaica. I live in the city of Nashville and I’m so proud to be amongst such great musicians. We love you!”
Rocky Dawuni, a superstar in his native Ghana, was proud to represent his country as a nominee for Best Reggae Album (“Branches of the Same Tree”). Like Morgan Heritage, Dawuni is one of the unsung heroes of the genre; this was his first nomination. For Dawuni, the symbolism of his nomination also points to the continuing rise of the African foundation of the global sound and represents the deeper roots of reggae in terms of its African origins and identity.
Dawuni described his Grammy experience from an artist’s perspective.
“The Grammy event was such an intense spectacle,” said Dawuni. “After we picked our nominee accreditations, we went through metal detectors and met with my publicist at the beginning of the red carpet. The publicist went ahead of us to schedule the slots with the global media that had lined up to pre-arrange the interviews, photo opportunities, etc. I then proceeded to meet and interview with outlets including from CNN, Reuters, Grammy.com, BBC and KTLA. From this point I was ushered to a grand photo session with photographers from outlets from all around the world. This whole process lasted for close to two hours. We were then ushered into the main hall of Microsoft Theatre where the pre-telecast was taking place and where most of the awards including ‘Best Reggae Album” were announced.’ When this ended we moved to the Staples Center where the televised portion of the awards took place. It was a fantastic evening checking out all the performances. Kendrick Lamar’s performance, in my opinion, was the highlight of the televised portion.”
African Funk diva Angelique Kidjo, who hails from Benin, won the Grammy for Best World Music Album for the second year in a row. “Sings” was recorded with the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg.
The African funk Diva danced her way to the stage and began her speech with an a cappella African thank you song in her native language. Her conductor, Gast Waltzing had a vison that African music could also be classical music, Kidjo said.
Kidjo dedicated her Grammy to all of the African classical musicians in her country and the new, vibrant generation of artists from Benin who are continuing the tradition.
“Africa is on the rise, Africa is positive, Africa is joyful,” said Kidjo. “Let’s get together and be one for music; and say no to hate and violence, through music.”
Mega producer Jimmy Jam, who reunited in 2015 with his partner Terry Lewis to produce Janet Jackson’s number one album “Unbreakable” presented the awards in the R&B category. The Weeknd, who also a 2015 Oscar nominee for the Fifty Shades of Gray” sountrack, earned two Grammys for Best R&B Performance, “Earned It” and Best Urban Contemporary Album, “Beauty Behind The Madness.”
Members of D’Angelo’s Vanguard accepted the Grammy for Best R&B Album, “Black Messiah.”
Singer and co-writer Kendra Foster accepted the award for Best R&B Song, “Really Love,” from “Black Messiah.” As a nod to Beyonce’s Super Bowl 50 performance of “Formation,” a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers, Foster raised her fist in solidarity with struggling communities during her acceptance speech. See link: https://youtu.be/Z1OJS8GAMs4.
It was a proud and tearful moment for Lalah Hathaway, who won the award for Best Traditional R&B performance for “Little Ghetto Boy,” originally recorded by her father, R&B great Donny Hathaway.
“Thank you, my father, for leaving a song for me to give to the next generation,” said Hathaway. “I’m so honored to be in the traditional rhythm and blues category; because I’ll stand for soul music all day. Thank you to all the people I was nominated with—Faith Evans, Jasmine Sullivan, Charlie Wilson, Tyreese. I love all of y’all. We’re all out here trying to say the same thing; that rhythm and blues is alive and well.”
The 58th Annual Grammy Awards Telecast—Staples Center
By 5 p.m. the Recording Academy’s biggest night, had officially kicked off. Trombone Shorty and his band led a second line through the audience as a tribute to New Orleans’ acclaimed pianist/composer Allen Toussaint, who made his transition in 2015.
Alas, no major event is pulled off without a bit of controversy and a bit of sadness. Adele’s highly anticipated return was marred by a technical malfunction but she sang through it like a champion.
As a tribute to Earth, Wind and Fire’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy and Maurice White’s passing, Stevie wonder and Pentatonix performed “That's the Way of the World,” with Wonder, a longtime activist, sneaking in the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” Lady Gaga performed the most creative tribute to David Bowie to the extent of emulating his hair and wardrobe as well as his grand, androgynist persona.
Blues great B.B. King was memorialized with an an all-star jam featuring Bonnie Rait and Chris Chris Stapleton.
However, any of her peers and family members found it shameful that there was no televised musical tribute to Natalie Cole, who had received nine Grammys and 21 Grammy nominations in the categories of R&B, pop and jazz. Cole died of congestive heart failure on Dec. 31, 2015 at 65. Cole had overcome many tragedies and obstacles including drug addiction, hepatitis C, and a kidney transplant. Cole was active within the Recording Academy, several charitable organizations and was even honored as the MusiCares Foundation’s Person of the Year in 1993.
We hope that Natalie Cole will receive her due during the 59th Grammy Awards Ceremony.
At the 58th Grammys San Francisco Nominee Celebration in January two of Cole’s peers, producer and Grammy trustee Larry Batiste and trombonist Wayne Wallace, 2015 Grammy nominee for Best Latin Jazz Album, commented on Cole’s legacy.
“I worked with Natalie a couple of times; I was in her backing band,” said Wallace. “It’s a loss; I’m sorry that it happened. The gentleman that helped me buy my first house was Natalie Cole’s road manager; he told me some stories about her trials and tribulations. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be the child of an icon like Nat “King” Cole.”
“It’s hard to come up with a famous father, (Nat “King” Cole), like she did, but what I love about Natalie is that she really showed that she had her own talent,” said Batiste. “I know that her gift came from God first and then through the veins of her father. What I also love about Natalie is that she was able to start with R&B and move over to jazz, and her last album, (“Natalie Cole en Espanol”), was a Latin album. I remember being so surprised at the Latin Grammys when she had three nominations. When you look at Natalie Cole, you see (her father’s) legacy, and then you realize she represented music in all genres. She was so global and I love her. She’s an inspiration.”
For a complete list of 2015 winners, go to www.grammy.com. Here the Grammy winners and nominees on www.streetwisesd.com/radio.