Experience Is Worth Its Weight In GRAMMY Gold

Tony Bennett and Betty White make history at the 54th GRAMMY Awards
  • Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage.com
    Tony Bennett
  • Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images
    Betty White
  • Photo: Dan MacMedan/WireImage.com
    Pinetop Perkins
  • Photo: George Rose/Getty Images
    George Burns
  • Photo: Michael Buckner/WireImage.com
    B.B. King
  • Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage.com
    George Martin
February 16, 2012 -- 3:00 pm PST
By Matt Sycamore / GRAMMY.com

When it comes to the GRAMMYs, even the old can look new again.

Not lost among the astounding achievements of music's best and brightest at the recent 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards was the fact that history was made by a pair of the entertainment industry's most beloved elder statesmen.

When 90-year-old Betty White took home the Best Spoken Word Album GRAMMY for her audio recording of her book If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't), she tied blues musician Elizabeth Cotten as the oldest female to win a GRAMMY. (Cotten holds a technical edge by just 12 days.)

Tony Bennett, 85, earned his 15th and 16th GRAMMYs — Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with Amy Winehouse for "Body And Soul" and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Duets II. Not only did he become one of only a handful of performers to win a GRAMMY in his 80s, Bennett now boasts the longest span of GRAMMY-winning activity with 49 years between wins. He won his first two statues for his signature song "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" at the 5th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 1963.

For White, it's all been part of a whirlwind of renewed popularity, an aging not unlike that of a fine Bordeaux wine.

"Isn't it ridiculous," she told USA Today about her first GRAMMY. "I must admit it sure is an ego trip."

The same could be said for Bennett, who offered a moment of poignancy at this year's Pre-Telecast Ceremony in paying tribute to the late Winehouse, who passed away at age 27 in 2011 and didn't get a chance to take the stage with Bennett. In arguably the classiest GRAMMY moment ever, Bennett invited Winehouse's parents to the stage to help accept the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance award.

"This is a wonderful moment," said Bennett, as he turned the microphone over to Mitch and Janis Winehouse.

But lest anyone think this year's GRAMMY Awards marked some kind of milestone for experienced winners, remember the names Pinetop Perkins, George Burns, George Martin, B.B. King, and Georg Solti, who have been there, done that.

At 97, Perkins became the oldest GRAMMY winner ever last year at the 53rd GRAMMY Awards when he won for Best Traditional Blues Album for Joined At The Hip, a collaboration with fellow late legend Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. But this wasn't anything new for Perkins. He won the same award at the 50th GRAMMY Awards when he was 94, sharing honors with the great David "Honeyboy" Edwards, who was 92. Perkins and Edwards were honored with a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 and 2010, respectively.

Prior to Perkins, Burns held the oldest winner mark. The famous cigar-chomping comedian nailed down the Best Spoken Word Or Non-Musical Recording GRAMMY for his reading of Gracie: A Love Story at the 33rd GRAMMY Awards presentation in 1991, when he was 95. Burns died in 1996, 100 years young.

The GRAMMY-winning octogenarian club also includes the venerable producer Martin and blues legend King. Noted for his groundbreaking output with the Beatles, appropriately Martin won his two most recent GRAMMYs for the Beatles' Love at the 50th GRAMMY Awards in 2008. When he accepted the award, the spry producer was 82 years old. A year later, at the 51st GRAMMY Awards, King took home Best Traditional Blues Album for One Kind Favor at age 83.

In rounding off this decorated list, one can't leave out the spectacular Solti, who collected more GRAMMY Awards than anyone else in history. The late conductor earned 31 GRAMMYs over the course of his brilliant career, in addition to a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award. At the 35th GRAMMY Awards in 1993, Solti won Best Opera Recording for R. Strauss: Die Frau Ohne Schatten at age 80. Though he died Sept. 5, 1997, Solti received his final GRAMMY posthumously at the 40th GRAMMY Awards, which aired Feb. 25, 1998.

These heady hallmarks for experience and vintage values go to show that everlasting qualities such as talent, perseverance and the ability to move people are attributes that, well, simply never get old.

(Matt Sycamore is a Pacific Northwest-based freelance music writer.)

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