A Brief History of the Grammys

Grammy AwardsEvery year, the Grammys provide us with a little piece of pop culture history, celebrating leading musicians of the day. But what is the history of the awards themselves?

In the beginning

The first Grammys were held on May 4 1959. Founded by record executives concerned with improving the status of their industry, they sought to create an Oscar-like buzz around music. 28 awards were handed out amid great excitement, including the first record of the year.

The first Grammys were criticised by some for their conservatism. The record executives concerned with defending their industry were also concerned with protecting old style pop in the face of rock’n’roll. This was reflected in the success of performances such as The Chipmunk Song – yes, the Alvin, Simon and Theodore Chipmunks – which won three awards.

As time goes by

The second Grammys, in November 1959, were the first to be telecast, appearing during NBC’s Sunday Showcase.  1959 also saw Frank Sinatra win the first of his three album of the year awards.

1962 was a big year for Henry Mancini. He won two Grammys for his music for the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, to go with the two Oscars he had won a month earlier. History doesn’t tell whether he got a new mantelpiece to display all that glory.

1965 saw the first signs of the British invasion, with the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” winning them best performance by a vocal group. Tom Jones’s prize for best new artist the following year confirmed that there was life across the Atlantic.

A night to watch

1971 saw the show televised live for the first time, and it proved a perfect year for it, with the 5th Dimension presenting the record of the year award in song.

But it was in 1977 that the Grammys showed the dangers of live broadcast when, during technical troubles with a satellite link, Andy Williams asked blind musician Stevie Wonder “can you see us now?”

By 1984, when Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” won the most awards in a single night in Grammy history, the show was reaching 43.8 million viewers. Twenty-five years on, the Grammys were triumphing in their aim of publicising the music industry.

All the excitement

The Grammys rolled on through the 1990s, despite the embarrassment of revoking Milli Vanilli’s 1990 award because they hadn’t sung on their own record. The awards continued to be criticised for their conservatism, while making big steps forward, for example bringing in a world music award in 1992.

But the accusation of conservatism was being felt by the Academy. They revamped their selection process in 1996 to try to highlight younger, edgier musicians.

A new century

The awards continue to make news well into the new millennium, for example teaming up fresh young performers with veterans for the 50th anniversary show.

Each year’s awards bring something new, not least debates over the winners. What will make this Grammy’s historic? Only time, and music, will tell.

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