On March 2, 1988, the GRAMMY Awards returned for the first time in seven years to New York City for its 30th birthday party. “This is a historic building,” host Billy Crystal explained, talking about Radio City Music Hall. “Because it’s the only building Donald Trump doesn’t own...yet.”
No single star owned the night of the 30th Annual GRAMMY Awards show, but in terms of both awards and performances, this proved to be a very good night for many of music’s elite. Take U2: The Irish rock gods won Album Of The Year and Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for The Joshua Tree. Accepting the latter award, U2 guitarist The Edge offered the most memorable run of thank yous in GRAMMY history, proclaiming, “I’d like to thank Desmond Tutu for his courage, Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan for ‘Tangled Up In Blue,’ Flannery O’Connor, Jimi Hendrix, Walt Disney, John the Baptist, Georgie Best, Gregory Peck, James T. Kirk, Morris Pratt, Dr. Ruth, Fawn Hall, Batman and Robin, Lucky the Dog, Pee Wee Herman, the YMCA, Eddie the Eagle, sumo wrestlers throughout the world, and, of course, Ronald Reagan.”
Bono — never one to be outdone in the speaking department — took a more serious tone in accepting the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year, explaining that U2 set out to make soul music. “It’s not about being black or white, or the instruments you play or whether you use a drum machine or not. It’s a decision to reveal or conceal. And without it people like Prince would be nothing more than [the] brilliant song-and-dance man that he is, but he’s much more than that. People like Bruce Springsteen would be nothing more than a great storyteller, but he’s much more than that. Without it...U2 certainly wouldn’t be here, and we are here, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than New York City tonight.”
New York City figured prominently in many of the night’s most magical moments, including an incredible Big Apple music segment that featured wonderful turns for George Benson performing his hit cover of “On Broadway,” a remarkably energetic Cab Calloway doing “Minnie The Moocher,” Tito Puente and Celia Cruz (“Quimbara”), Lou Reed (“Walk On The Wild Side”), Run-D.M.C. (“Tougher Than Leather”), Michael Brecker (substituting for an ailing Miles Davis), Marcus Miller and David Sanborn (“Tutu”), and Billy Joel performing “New York State Of Mind.” Later, Billy Crystal revealed that he and homeboy Billy Joel had more than a first name in common. “My first paying job as a comedian was opening for Billy Joel at Fairleigh Dickinson in Teaneck, New Jersey,” Crystal explained. “Now I’m here doing this show and he’s a five-time GRAMMY-winner.”
Also winning was a big celebration of doo-wop — “the stuff we sang in the men’s room in high school because the echo was so great,” as Crystal said in the introduction. With famed New York disc jockey Jocko Henderson as the narrator, the extended, harmonic convergence included appearances by the Angels, the Cadillacs, Dion, the Flamingos and the Regents, along with Lou Reed, Ruben Blades and Buster Poindexter.
An even earlier rock great, Little Richard, made a brilliantly hysterical and rapturously received commotion in co-presenting with Poindexter the Best New Artist award to Jody Watley. Before announcing the actual winner, Little Richard repeatedly declared himself the winner, as well as a “brown Jew from Georgia” and “the architect of rock and roll.” Later, Crystal announced that Little Richard would be releasing new versions of his old hits — “Long Tall Shirley,” “Good Golly Miss Molly Goldberg” and “Tutti Frutti, So Sue Me.”
Somewhat less winning was the often hilarious Jackie Mason whose stand-up performance met considerable audience resistance when he came across to many as being less than properly respectful to the rightly beloved Quincy Jones. On the other hand, Jones’ collaborator Michael Jackson nearly stole the show performing “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Man In The Mirror” with great finesse and style. Whitney Houston also made a big impression — opening the telecast with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” the same song that earned her the Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, GRAMMY later in the evening.
All in all, the GRAMMYs’ 30th anniversary party in Radio City turned out to be something Bono would approve of — a pretty soulful night of music.