This week, the music world descends upon Los Angeles, and the Grammy countdown begins. On Sunday, the Recording Academy will present awards for the 52nd time. Billed as "Music's Biggest Night," the Grammys were established in 1958 to honor excellence in the music industry. Now, 52 years later, some might question the Grammys' relevance, while others take shots at the awards being little more than a nationally televised insiders club.
The cynics have it all wrong, and I'll remind them that the Recording Academy honors a broader range of music and artists than any other awards show around. While the Oscars throw a bone to documentary filmmakers and animators, the rest is all about filmmakers inside the Hollywood beltway. It's the same with the Tonys, the Golden Globes, and all the rest of the Big Establishment Awards shows (that means you too, MTV, despite your faux hipster pretense). None stretch to the far-flung corners of their world.
Does a Grammy help or hurt musicians' credibility? [Poll]
Meanwhile, the Grammy Awards ceremony travels the entire musical globe in one telecast. What other single music award is given to polka bands, hip-hop stars, jazz musicians, Hawaiian artists, and metal heads? Yes, a Grammy went to Milli Vanilli, but it also went to Amy Winehouse. Like any self-governing group of people, the Recording Academy has made missteps over the years. Still, it has corrected course and done more to open its arms to the future than nearly any other industry group around. The Recording Academy cares deeply about the preservation and future of music -- even if the members don't always understand it. But who does? Anyone who can tell me where this business is headed is either a liar or a witch. Either way, I'm running the other way.
Here are some things you may not know about the Grammys. Tell a friend. As the saying goes, we're all fans. I dig that. More fans. Less cynics.
ALISON KRAUSS LEADS THE LADIES
Bluegrass-country fiddler and singer Alison Krauss has the most awards of any female artist in Grammy history. Her 26 awards include last year's Album of the Year for "Raising Sand," her collaboration with former Led Zep wailer Robert Plant. Krauss may take home Grammy #27 this Sunday. She's up for Best Classical Crossover Album, for "Songs of Joy & Peace" with cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
IT'S AN HONOR JUST TO BE NOMINATED (79 TIMES)
Producer-arranger and all-around badass Quincy Jones has been nominated 79 times for Grammy awards. He's taken 27 of them home, including one for "We Are the World," which won Record of the Year in 1986. Jones may soon set another record. He's masterminding a sequel for "We Are the World," scheduled to be recorded the day after this year's Grammys. Perhaps we'll see him onstage collecting trophy #28 at the 2011 awards broadcast.
BOB NEWHART: BEST NEW ARTIST -- AND COMEDIAN
Standup comic (and future sitcom star) Bob Newhart was signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1959 after a year of making audition tapes. His debut album, "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart," passed Elvis Presley to the top of the Billboard charts. That was enough to score Newhart a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1961 -- the first and only time the award has been given to a non-musician.
THANK THE GRAMMYS FOR THE AMAs (OR BLAME THEM)
The first Grammy telecast aired on ABC in 1971. Two years later CBS bought the rights to the show, leaving ABC without a music awards show of its own. Enter Dick Clark with an idea to produce an awards show determined by music buyers as opposed to music insiders. And so the American Music Awards were born.
NO ONE CAN STOP JIMMY STURR
There have been 24 Grammys awarded for Best Polka Album. Jimmy Sturr has won 18 of them -- including one with Willie Nelson (1997's "Polka! All Night Long"). Sturr holds the records for most consecutive Grammy wins. Granted, he doesn't have a lot of competition now, but somewhere there's a young polka band playing in a Germantown garage waiting to kick Sturr's 2/4 butt.