As the Recording Academy gears up to celebrate half a century of handing out
golden gramophones -- tonight's Grammy ceremony in Los Angeles is the 49th
annual -- it's worth looking at how the Grammy Awards actually work.
was originally the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences was formed
in 1957 by the music industry's old guard as a reaction to that scourge
called rock 'n' roll. The Grammys were established to denigrate this new "talentless
noise" by honoring "good music" from artists such as Frank Sinatra, Perry
Como and Doris Day.
"We shall judge a record on the basis of sheer artistry, and artistry
alone," reads the Grammy credo. "Sales and mass popularity are the
yardsticks of the record business. They are not the yardsticks of this
If you believe that, there's a bridge for sale in Brooklyn. One look at
the list of Grammy winners through the years offers plenty of evidence that
the awards often go to the artists who've made the most money for the people
who give out the awards, although there are myriad other hidden agendas, few
of which have anything to do with "artistry and artistry alone."
The 20,000 members of what is now called simply the Recording Academy
include plenty of artists, but there are even more old-school music industry
professionals, ranging from record company executives obsessed with their
stock portfolios to recording engineers who spend most of their time down in
the trenches, taping commercial jingles. A cutting-edge group it is not.
When the Grammys were first presented in 1958, top honors went to
Domenico Modugno ("Volare") and Alvin & the Chipmunks; young hooligans such
as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly had all
recorded music that is now considered classic, but they weren't even
nominated. And so it went through the '60s: Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones
made some of the most influential sounds ever during that decade, but they
never won a Grammy, and in 1965, the Beatles' "Help!" was bested for Album
of the Year by the Anita Kerr Group's "We Dig Mancini."
The Recording Academy started to get a little hipper in the late'70s, and
it spent much of the '80s and '90s playing a constant game of catch-up,
heaping awards on artists such as Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie
Raitt and Carlos Santana long after their creative primes to make up for the
slights of years past. This year's multiple nominees Mary J. Blige, the Red
Hot Chili Peppers and producer Rick Rubin arguably fall into this make-good
As a result, a look at the top Grammy winners for any given year often
presents a picture oddly out of step with the sounds proven by time to have
been the freshest and most innovative. Witness 1976, a year that saw the
last great creative flourish of disco, the rise of punk rock and classic
album releases by David Bowie, Miles Davis, Patti Smith, Lynyrd Skynyrd and
Bob Marley, to name a few. The Grammys would have us remember the
Bicentennial via that year's big award winner: the Starland Vocal Band, who
gave us the, um, unforgettable single, "Afternoon Delight."
Aside from chronically being behind in the times in a broader sense, the
Grammys are literally behind the times every year because they do not count
any fourth quarter releases. The Recording Academy defines the year 2006 as
Oct. 1, 2005, to Sept. 30, 2006, discounting the many high-profile releases
the music industry traditionally saves for the period between Thanksgiving
The Academy has long defended this practice as a necessity for accurately
polling its members to determine the nominees, then tallying their votes to
determine the winners. This may have been a sad truth in the era of paper
ballots. But we are now living in a time where people can buy car insurance,
check in with their doctor and in some states even vote instantly online.
There's simply no reason for this time lag anymore.
For all of these problems, however, the Grammys remain the closest thing
popular music has to the Oscars because there is a regulated voting system,
something that can't be said for other music prizes like the MTV Video Music
Awards and Dick Clark's American Music Awards. That's why, every year, music
lovers tune into the telecast hoping for something better. And all too
often, they wind up throwing things at their TV sets in frustration once
WHO'S ON STAGE TONIGHT
Announcements have come in pieces as to who's presenting awards and
performing at the 49th annual Grammy Awards, 7 tonight on WBBM-Channel 2.
Here's the roll call of who'll be on stage:
The hotly anticipated reunion
After weeks of speculation, the Police confirmed that the band will
reunite to open the Grammys singing the hit single that broke them in
America 30 years ago, "Roxanne." The group -- Sting, guitarist Andy Summers
and drummer Stewart Copeland -- has not performed live since its 2003
induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; the Grammy appearance is
widely expected to kick off a year's worth of reunion shows throughout the
world -- likely the announcement they're making at a Monday morning press
conference in Los Angeles.
The clever pairings, triplings
What would Grammy be without oddball collaboration performances?
Shakira and Wyclef Jean will team up for a song.
So will Earth, Wind & Fire, Mary J. Blige and Ludacris.
Chris Brown, Lionel Richie and Smokey Robinson will perform during a
tribute segment to male R&B artists.
Rascal Flatts will join Carrie Underwood for a tribute to
There's also a trio of John Mayer, John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae.
The big names
The event also will feature performances from James Blunt, T.I., Beyonce,
the Dixie Chicks, Gnarls Barkley, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Christina
Aguilera, Mary J. Blige, Ludacris, Justin Timberlake and Carrie Underwood.
Among those presenting awards are Burt Bacharach, Natalie Cole, Reba
McEntire, Chicago rapper Common, Alyson Hannigan, Cobie Smulders, Mandy
Moore, Quentin Tarantino, Luke Wilson, Natasha Bedingfield, Tony Bennett,
comedian Lewis Black, actor Nicolas Cage, jazz legend Ornette Coleman, LeAnn
Rimes, Seal, actor David Spade, the Pussycat Dolls' Nicole Scherzinger, Joan
Baez, Melissa Etheridge, Jennifer Judson, Queen Latifah, Stevie Wonder and