This year’s installment, taped on May 11 at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, is set to air Friday as part of PBS’ Great Performances series.
The sheer range of the music honored at the fourth annual Grammy Salute to Music Legends was striking. The music stretched from Black Sabbath‘s groundbreaking heavy metal to the understated elegance of Dionne Warwick; from the boisterous energy of George Clinton & Parliament–Funkadelic to the suave romantic balladry of Julio Iglesias.
All four of these acts received lifetime achievement awards, as did Billy Eckstine, Donny Hathaway and Sam & Dave. Lou Adler, Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson and Johnny Mandel received trustees awards — the equivalent award for people whose primary contribution is other than performance.
This show is one of Neil Portnow’s legacy accomplishments as the Recording Academy’s former president/CEO. When Portnow assumed that post in 2002, the special merit awards were dispensed before an invited audience of a few hundred people. Now, they have a national TV audience. This year’s installment, taped on May 11 at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, is set to air Friday as part of PBS’ Great Performances series.
The event is obviously deeply meaningful to the participants and their families. Gina Eckstine, the youngest of Eckstine’s seven children, noted that she grew up hearing about her father’s accomplishments as a pioneering jazz and pop vocalist, but said that this award made them seem more real. “All of those things were an asterisk when I came along. I’d like to thank the Academy for no longer making my father an asterisk.”
While the annual Grammy Awards are generally given to artists at the apex of their careers, these lifetime achievement and trustees awards are usually given to artists in their later years, or after they’ve died. This gives the event an emotional power that the annual Grammy Awards don’t have.
Sam Moore, the surviving member of Sam & Dave, sang that duo’s 1967 soul ballad “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down.” The song had added poignancy because he had to sit while performing because, it was explained, he was recovering from surgery for a herniated disk.
But there was humor too. Jimmy Jam presented the trustees award to Ashford and Simpson, noting that they blazed a trail for him and his writing and producing partner Terry Lewis. “And let the record show, Ashford & Simpson took their partnership places Terry and I never have — like marriage and children.”
And there was a bit of wisdom. Clinton noted, “Funk is not black or white, young or old, male or female, but human at its root. All booties shake alike.”
The artists who participated in the salutes were, for the most part, in the same musical lanes as the artists being honored. Johnny Mathis sang Warwick’s 1964 classic “Walk on By.” Gregory Porter sang two songs associated with Eckstine. Kenny Lattimore filled in for Ashford (who died in 2011) in a performance with Simpson of the couple’s classic songs “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
But other featured artists came at the music from different angles. Country titan Garth Brooks teamed with Moore to sing Sam & Dave’s “Hold On! I’m Comin” and “Soul Man.” Rap icon Snoop Dogg hosted the show-closing tribute to funk stars Clinton and P-Funk. Snoop noted that by allowing rap artists to sample his work, at a time when many legacy acts were not so accessible, Clinton both exposed his music to a contemporary audience and “set the stage for hip-hop.”
The only living honorees who didn’t attend the event were Iglesias, who sent a video in which he performed a ballad while on tour in Europe, and Ozzy Osbourne, who missed Black Sabbath’s honor due to a recent surgery. The band’s three other founding members — Tony Iommi, Bill Ward and Geezer Butler — were on hand to accept the award, though they didn’t perform. (The band performed its last concert in February 2017.)
The Recording Academy produces the show in partnership with the production company THIRTEEN. They do a great job every year, though sometimes they have to work around artists’ availabilities. Carole King sent a video in which she paid tribute to Adler, who produced Tapestry and her other hit ’70s albums, but she wasn’t on hand to perform. As a result, the producers enlisted Jessie Mueller, who won a Tony for portraying King in the Broadway musical Beautiful—The Carole King Story. Mueller did a fine job on “I Feel the Earth Move” and “It’s Too Late,” though King should have been there.
Some of the work-arounds worked out great. Hathaway’s daughters Lalah Hathaway (a five-time Grammy winner) and Kenya (who was part of Phillinganes’ band for the night) were terrific in their performance of “Where Is the Love,” the silky 1972 duet by Roberta Flack and their father. (Flack sent a statement to be read, but didn’t appear.) Rival Sons, which opened for Black Sabbath on their final tour in 2016-17, performed two songs from the band’s 1970 album, Paranoid.
Most of the recipients had won Grammys in regular competition, but a few — Clinton, Eckstine and Ashford & Simpson — had not. Asia Ashford touched on that in accepting the award on her father’s behalf. She wore a shiny gold jacket and explained, “In 1985, he had this jacket made because he thought he was going to get a Grammy, but I’m honored to wear it for him.” (Ashford & Simpson were indeed nominees that year for their hit album, Solid.)
Some oddities: Ashford & Simpson received a trustees award, recognizing their legacy as songwriters and producers, rather than a lifetime achievement award, which would have also acknowledged their notable success as performers. Hathaway received a lifetime achievement award before Flack, his frequent duet partner, who had many hits of her own in the ’70s and ’80s. Sam & Dave received a lifetime achievement award before Isaac Hayes, who co-wrote their hits “Hold On! I’m Comin” and “Soul Man” — and who became a star in his own right, winning an Oscar and a Grammy for his immortal “Theme from Shaft.”
Warwick received her award 22 years after Burt Bacharach and Hal David were given a trustees award. Bacharach didn’t appear in the Warwick salute (except in an old video clip). Other people who were conspicuous by their absences included Enrique Iglesias, in the salute to his father, and Diana Ross, in the tribute to Ashford & Simpson.
The late audio innovator Saul Walker, who co-founded API in 1968, was this year’s technical Grammy recipient. Jeffery Redding was the recipient of the music educator award presented by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Museum.
Patti Austin sang in both the Mandel and Eckstine tributes, bringing effortless elegance to the proceedings. Other participants included Bootsy Collins, Sativa and Eddie M., in the P-Funk segment, and Cheech & Chong, who presented the award to Adler. The stoner comics couldn’t resist calling it “a very high honor.”