Unforgettable — that’s what the 34th Annual GRAMMY Awards show at Radio City Music Hall in New York was. Natalie Cole’s salute to the music of her legendary father Nat “King” Cole was remembered with many awards — winning Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Best Traditional Pop Performance, Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals, Best Engineered Album — Non-Classical, while her producer David Foster took home the GRAMMY for Producer Of The Year (Non-Classical). Accepting the Song Of The Year GRAMMY for “Unforgettable,” veteran songwriter Irving Gordon described the experience nicely. “It’s like being caught in the middle of a miracle,” he explained. “In a youth-oriented culture — where youth is worshipped — it’s nice to have a middle-aged song do something.”
All ages were represented on the show, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. As Johnny Mathis said to his co-presenter Dionne Warwick, “I just love the GRAMMYs. On what other list would I find my name between Madonna and Megadeth?”
Paul Simon got things off to an impressively rhythmic start with an opening performance of “Cool, Cool River” from his Rhythm Of The Saints album. A dreadlocked Seal made a memorable live American debut performing his first smash “Crazy.” Michael Bolton sang his hit version of “When A Man Loves A Woman” and won the GRAMMY for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male. And Mary Chapin Carpenter added a bit of Cajun spice to the proceedings by performing “Down At The Twist And Shout” with the great rootsy band BeauSoleil. After being presented with the GRAMMY for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female, by Clint Black and the legendary Roy Rogers, Carpenter thanked the group for “injecting such magic and joy” into “Down At The Twist And Shout.”
Host Goldberg added a different sort of spice and comic relief — even making perhaps the dirtiest sounding joke in GRAMMY history about the show accountants. “I must tell you Deloitte & Touche are two things I do nightly,” she said before reporting that the accountants would be heading out on tour with Guns N’ Roses.
Not everybody was joking around. When R.E.M. won the GRAMMY for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal (“Losing My Religion”) — one of their three awards for the night — singer Michael Stipe struck a progressive political note. “We’d like to urge everybody to register and vote in the United States,” Stipe said of the 1992 presidential election looming that would eventually bring Bill Clinton into his first term in office. “We need candidates who will really address important issues — homelessness, AIDS research, economic depression and national healthcare.” He said this while wearing a hat with the words “White House Stop AIDS.”
Academy President Michael Greene spoke about the government’s America 2000 plan, the Bush Administration’s educational strategy of nationwide goals in the new millennium, pointing out, “Among all the goals, the words ‘art’ or ‘music’ are not mentioned even one time. The very idea that you can educate young people in a meaningful way without music and art is simply absurd.” Then, after recognizing Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix and James Brown with Lifetime Achievement Awards, Greene honored Academy Executive Vice President Christine Farnon with the Trustees Award. In paying tribute to Farnon’s 30-plus years of service, he said, “From its earliest days when The Recording Academy was little more than a dream, a letterhead and a golden statue of an antique phonograph, [The Recording Academy] was nurtured and protected by a caring, deeply dedicated professional.”
Stephen Sondheim appeared to honor one of the greatest female stars of the century. “She’s as good as they come,” Sondheim told the Radio City Music Hall audience. “Tonight she is a GRAMMY legend. Her name is Barbra Streisand.” He went on to present her with the GRAMMY Legend Award for “her relentless pursuit of perfection.” For her part, Streisand struck a humble note: “In all honesty, I don’t feel like a legend. I feel more like a work in progress.”