This is the fifth year that the Recording Academy is presenting its “special merit awards” in a standalone TV special — titled Grammy Salute to Music Legends – but the first year that that special has been produced without an audience and in different locations due to COVID-19.
Jimmy Jam hosted this year’s edition, which will air Friday (Oct. 16) on PBS as part of that network’s Great Performances franchise. The two-hour show was just as good as past installments, which were recorded live at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.
All but one of this year’s living recipients accepted his or her honors on tape. (Composer Philip Glass did not.) But none of this year’s recipients performed on the show, a change from recent years where such honorees as Dionne Warwick and Earth, Wind & Fire “sang for their supper.”
Here are eight can’t-miss moments from this year’s Grammy Salute to Music Legends special.
Cynthia Erivo honored Roberta Flack: The show opened with a tribute to Roberta Flack, who received a lifetime achievement award. Cynthia Erivo has won a Grammy, Emmy and Tony, and was nominated for two Oscars this year, so she’s hardly an unknown. But she’s still not as well-known as she deserves to be — or, most likely, will be. She more than did justice to Flack’s 1972 classic “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”
Erivo then teamed with Leslie Odom, Jr. to perform “Where Is the Love,” a mellifluous blend of pop, jazz and soul that was a 1972 hit for Flack and Donny Hathaway (who received a lifetime achievement award last year). Flack, a four-time Grammy winner, holds a special Grammy distinction: She was the first artist to win back-to-back awards for record of the year.
Chicago got some respect: Chicago has had more commercial success than any of this year’s other honorees — five No. 1 albums on the Billboard and 20 top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. For a time, that commercial success overshadowed how groundbreaking Chicago was in the early years, with its blend of pop, rock and jazz.
Chicago trombone player James Pankow accepted the group’s lifetime achievement award, noting, “This is a big button on a very long career.” Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire sang “If You Leave Me Now,” Chicago’s first No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 and its only Grammy winner. Chicago has toured with EWF (which received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy four years ago), and, Pankow suggested, may go out with them for another run.
Grammy did right by Iggy (almost): Iggy Pop also received a lifetime achievement award, even though he has never won a Grammy, and has received just two nominations. In an innovation for this show that holds great promise, Don Was and Henry Rollins, facing each other, shared their thoughts about Iggy. “Those records hit me like a bus,” Rollins said of Iggy’s early records with The Stooges.
The producers also dug up a vintage clip of Iggy on Dinah!, the ‘70s afternoon talk show starring the sunny Dinah Shore. Iggy accepted the award saying “I’ve spent many years …out on the road, playing for the people. And I’ve always tried not to be boring…So punk on!” The only discordant note: The producers blurred the message on Iggy’s T shirt. The first word is “Raw” but the rest of the message he was trying to convey was obscured. You can’t simultaneously honor somebody’s artistry and censor their message.
Isaac Hayes’ son called for financial equity for Black artists: Isaac Hayes III, son of R&B icon Isaac Hayes, who received a lifetime achievement award, used his acceptance speech to make a point about how Black artists have historically been treated in the music industry. “We continue to fight and want to bring attention to artists rights and music rights as we deal with racial equality and income inequality, especially in the music industry for Black icons like Isaac Hayes who paved the way,” said Hayes III, wearing a Black Votes Matter T-shirt.
Sam Moore of Sam & Dave (who were honored with a lifetime achievement award just last year) performed a medley of Sam & Dave hits that Hayes co-wrote with David Porter. Hayes, a three-time Grammy winner, was (as the script points out) also the first Black person to win an Oscar outside of acting categories for his eternally funky and cool “Theme From Shaft” (1971).
Chris Isaak sang Hank Williams (by way of Roy Orbison): Chris Isaak was part of the salute to talent scout Frank Walker, who received a trustees award (the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award for non-performers). Isaak sang “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” the most famous song associated with Walker’s greatest discovery, Hank Williams. (“You might recognize it,” Isaak said dryly.) Isaak’s superb version owed as much to Roy Orbison as to Williams, and showed that songs are always open to a fresh interpretation. Walker, who died in 1963, also discovered Bessie Smith and Blind Willie Johnson.
The Grammys “did the right thing” to Public Enemy: Like Iggy Pop, Public Enemy never won a Grammy (despite, in their case, six nominations). But they are now lifetime achievement award winners. Accepting the award, Chuck D said, “I’m not really one for awards, but…this goes out to all of my guys who helped make it possible.” Professor Griff said, “We wanted to hold a mirror up to America and the world and let America know that this is what we’re seeing through the lens of our music.” In lieu of a speech, Terminator X spun records that said what he wanted to say, including Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin.”
Ken Ehrlich got his “Grammy Moment”: The salute to Ken Ehrlich, the longtime executive producer of the Grammy Awards, who retired from that job after this year’s show, was very effective. Cyndi Lauper offered a warm performance of her 1984 smash “Time After Time,” which she performed on the Grammys in 1985 when it was nominated for song of the year. We also saw glimpses of some of Ehrlich’s greatest “Grammy Moments,” from Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond to Prince and Beyoncé. Ehrlich received a trustees award. (Pierre Cossette, his predecessor as the Grammys’ chief producer, received the same award back in 1995.) Ehrlich, one of the top producers of music programming in TV history, has yet to win an Emmy. At least he has this shiny bauble.
The Grammys broke an unwritten TV rule: The Grammys closed the show on a quiet note, with an extended salute to master songwriter John Prine, who died in April of complications from COVID-19. Prine, a two-time Grammy-winner, was receiving a lifetime achievement award. TV 101 holds that they would close the show with Chicago, perhaps doing a mini-concert featuring such up-tempo hits as “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” and “25 or 6 to 4.”
COVID presumably made that impossible, but the producers did put the salute to Chicago in the second spot and saved the closing spot for a salute to Prine. In addition, they let the Prine tribute run longer than any of the other segments. It ran more than 18 minutes, a good six minutes longer than the next-longest segments (the tributes to Flack and Chicago).
Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires performed “Storm Windows”; Brandi Carlile performed “I Remember Everything.” The producers also included two vintage clips of Prine performing on TV, solo and with his longtime friend Bonnie Raitt. It was unusual to see a TV special close on a quiet note, but it worked.
The show also included salutes to Sister Rosetta Tharpe (lifetime achievement award), Glass (trustees award), George Augspurger (technical Grammy award) and Mickey Smith Jr. (music educator award).
The show, a production of Thirteen Productions for WNET, was written by David Wild and directed for television by David Horn, with Mitch Owgang as producer and Horn and Branden Chapman as executive producers. Terry Lickona and Chantel Sausedo are co-producers.Credit: Original article published here.