Thursday, 23 January 2014

Let's Grab A Grammy : Part 1

This weekend sees the annual celebration of the Grammy awards, the top awards in the international music recording industry. What better way to help celebrate my year of music than by taking a brief look at the lgbt Grammy winners.

What all Grammys have in common is that they are awarded for recorded music and not live performance, and there are many lgbt singers, musicians, producers, composers and technicians who have been nominated over the years. However, there’s no room to name them all so these articles I’m writing mention a few of the winners and not the nominations.

The first lgbt winner of a Grammy was pianist Van Cliburn who died last year. In the very first year the Grammys were awarded, 1959, Van won the award for Best Classical Performance – Instrumentalist (with concerto scale accompaniment) of 1958. The rather long award title reflects the desire to recognise as many different styles within one category, not unlike the many different categories in the same event at the Paralympic Games.

Van Cliburn is also the first multi-Grammy winner. His second was awarded in the following year for his recording of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in the slightly longer category title of (deep breath) Best Classical Performance – Concerto or Instrumental Soloist with full Orchestral Accompaniment (phew!).

The lgbt musicians with the most Grammys is composer Pierre Boulez, with 26. Pianist Vladimir Horowitz is one below him with 25.

The honour of being the first lgbt composer to be a Grammy winner goes to Aaron Copland. He won the award in 1960 for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Also in 1960 Cole Porter receive a Grammy for his musical “Can Can”, winning (another deep breath) the Best Sound Track Album or Recording of Original Cast from a Motion Picture.

The first lgbt musician to win more than one Grammy in the same year was Leonard Bernstein in 1961, though only one was for music. Grammys have been awarded for spoken recordings, and Bernstein won the Best Documentary or Spoken Word Recording Other than Comedy for his narration of “Humour in Music” (slightly confusing considering the category title!).

The Best Documentary of Spoken Word award holds the record for the most consecutive lgbt winners – 1961 - Bernstein, 1962 – Charles Laughton for “The Story-Teller: A Session with Charles Laughton”, 1963 – Edward Albee for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, and 1964 – the cast of BBC tv’s “That Was The Week That Was” (with producer and head writer Ned Sherrin) for their tribute to John F. Kennedy (though, technically, Sherrin isn’t an official winner).

The first lgbt musician to win more than one Grammy in the same year for the same recording was Benjamin Britten. In 1963 he won Classical Album of the Year for 1962, Best Classical Performance – Choral (Other than Opera), and Best Classical Composition by a Contemporary Composer. All three were for his recording of his “War Requiem”.

Film and stage musicals have always featured in the Grammys, and gay men have an apocryphal reputation for being their biggest fans. After Cole Porter’s “Can Can” in 1960 the next Grammy to an lgbt musical personality went in 1964 to Jerry Herman. He won the Song of the Year award with “Hello, Dolly!” from the film version of the stage musical of the same name, which also won Best Male Vocal Performance for Louis Armstrong. Unfortunately, Jerry Herman lost the award for the best soundtrack recording of “Hello, Dolly!” to “Mary Poppins”. But you lose some and you win some. In 1966 Herman won Best Score from an Original Cast Show Album with “Mame”.

The first individual lgbt instrumentalist still living to win a Grammy was Gary Burton in 1972. Gary plays the vibraphone, an instrument that was popular during the 1970s. His album “Alone at Last” won for him the Best Jazz Performance by a Soloist. He has won a further 6 Grammys, the last being last year as Best Improvised Jazz Solo.

If you’re thinking there’s a distinct lack of popular music among the winners I’ve named so far, you’d be right. Even though pop, rock’n’roll and soul Grammys have been awarded since the 1960s the first lgbt pop singer/musician to win was, unbelievably, not until 1984. That year David Bowie, Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin joined Stephen Sondheim and Samuel Barber on the winner’s list. Bowie’s award was for Best Short Form Video, and Lisa and Wendy, members of Prince's band The Revolution, shared the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals for their album “Purple Rain – Music From the Motion Picture”.

In two day’s time I’ll concentrate on the lgbt popular music Grammys.

Note: This article was amended on 27rh January 2014.

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