Acad's latest lifetime achievers span the musical spectrum
Each year, NARAS bestows lifetime achievement awards to artists whose bodies of work have stood the test of time. The laurels also afford the Academy a chance to make up for lost time in honoring those who’d previously been shut out — such as Cream and the Weavers. “Just as with the Oscars, these prizes are definitely ways for NARAS to make up for its boo-boo oversights of the past,” says Jim Farber, music critic for New York’s Daily News. “In the case of the Grammys, they’ve got boo-boos up the wazoo. They’ve historically neglected important people in favor of flavors of the minute, or the most conservative, or reactionary, musical choices in a given year.”
Arguably rock’s first power trio — and one of its first supergroups — this short-lived combo made a long-lasting noise. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker took improvisational musicianship to previously unexplored heights, but still managed to crank out some of the most immediately accessible rock songs of their time — traits that made their 2005 reunion shows the most anticipated musical event of the year.
He’s often been called rock’s greatest chameleon, but that sobriquet is hardly fitting — chameleons, after all, are known for blending in. Bowie has never been one to do that. His unmatched musical versatility — and the visionary way in which he donned and discarded personae — spawned not only individual imitators, but entire movements, from glam to New Wave to electronica.
The self-proclaimed “Okie From Muskogee” proved that country music didn’t have to be slick — and, just as importantly, didn’t have to come from Nashville. His use of electric instrumentation and his hardscrabble attitude cemented his place in country lore — contributing to his 38 No. 1 singles and his lasting influence on aspiring rebels to this day.
The spearhead of the folk music boom of the 1950s, this quartet introduced millions of people to American musical traditions that might’ve otherwise been lost to the ravages of time. A willingness to stand up for their beliefs might’ve derailed their career during the McCarthy era, but it made their legacy all the stronger. “What a phenomenon, to see the folk ethos go to the top of the charts, with a Leadbelly song, no less,” says Warren Zanes, VP of education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “With the Weavers, you’re not just honoring the music, you’re telling the story of an era.”
This brilliant American soprano is one of the most imposing women to have ever graced an opera stage, thanks to her commanding presence and her remarkably all-embracing vocal range. A fixture at the Metropolitan Opera for a quarter-century, she’s renowned for her restless intellect — she’s mastered Russian, French and German to perform pieces in their original languages — as well as her luminous tone.
Whether or not he actually sold his soul to the devil — as the legend goes — to do so, Johnson long ago became the most iconic name in blues music. Although he recorded only a handful of songs before his death at age 27, each of them resonates as vividly now as they did nearly three-quarters of a century ago. “While all the artists to be honored this year deserve to be, Johnson died long before the Grammys even began,” says New York Daily News critic Farber. “So it’s great that he’s getting something in the only way he — or his legacy — can.”
Controversy swirled around this groundbreaking comic for most of his career, and most of his life. He’ll really be remembered, however, for his work — incisive, often acerbic comedy that went far beyond “bits” to include sociopolitical commentary that touched a nerve as often as it hit a funny bone. Unlike most of this year’s honorees, Pryor received multiple Grammys for his recorded work — including a three-peat in the best comedy album category between 1974 and 1976.
Trustees Award Honorees
The founder of Island Records began his career by introducing the pop music realm to — fittingly — the music of the islands, bringing Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and countless others to a worldwide audience. That alone would earn him consideration for his honor, but his subsequent signing of groundbreaking acts like Traffic and U2 cemented his place in the pantheon of true innovators.
While Owen Bradley is undeniably one of the most influential producers in country music history, his contributions aren’t limited to what he did behind the mixing board. As a musician, and later as the head of a label, he brought the genre into the modern world, creating, as it came to be known, “countrypolitan” music for cosmopolitan people. “It’s imperative to step behind the spotlight to tell the entire story of a music,” says the Rock Hall’s Zanes. “Clearly, Owen Bradley is the architect of a sound that dominated Nashville, as well as the pop charts. He was as important to Roy Orbison as he was to Patsy Cline.”
The engineer’s engineer, Schmitt’s instinctive mastery of the studio has earned him 15 prior Grammys, and more than 150 gold and platinum albums. Unlike many of his peers, he never fell into the trap of genre limitation, working with artists as varied as Frank Sinatra, Steely Dan and Natalie Cole — making sure that the voices of each were captured as pristinely as possible.