During the eligibility year for the 4th Annual GRAMMY Awards, the Vietnam War officially began, Dwight Eisenhower warned of the growing military industrial complex, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president, a chimp named Ham was launched into space, the U.S. military invaded Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, Roger Maris hit 61 homeruns, and a young singer/songwriter born Robert Zimmerman moved to New York to become Bob Dylan.
Yet in pure GRAMMY terms, the most significant event of the year may have been Judy Garland’s legendary comeback at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Judy at Carnegie Hall, the resulting live album, earned GRAMMY awards for Album of the Year (Other Than Classical); Best Solo Vocal Performance, Female; Best Engineering Contribution—Popular Recording for engineer Robert Arnold; and Best Album Cover (Other Than Classical) for art director Jim Silke.
The 4th Annual GRAMMY Awards also marked the biggest GRAMMY year ever for a man who was already becoming a GRAMMY institution in his own right—Henry Mancini. Mancini’s success at these festivities was sparked primarily by the huge success of his music for the Audrey Hepburn smash Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “Moon River” (which also won the best song Oscar) won the GRAMMY for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Arrangement while the title track won Best Performance by an Orchestra—For Other Than Dancing and the soundtrack was victorious for Best Sound Track Album or Recording of Score from Motion Picture or Television. Ever the gentlemen, Mancini did not refuse the awards because of their overly wordy titles.
This GRAMMY year also saw the emergence of comedy team Mike Nichols and Elaine May, who won the Best Comedy Performance award (for An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May). Nichols would later go on to even further prominence as a film director starting with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) and The Graduate (1967).
Choral conductor Robert Shaw won the first of what would be 16 GRAMMY Awards over the years, earning Best Classical Performance—Choral (Other Than Opera) for Bach: B Minor Mass.
Also, by 1961, The Academy was beginning to act on a mission that was geared to make the organization not just the presenters of the GRAMMY Awards, but also one that sought to foster growth and dialog for its music making members. A November 1961 Academy-sponsored panel discussion now seems like a quaint time capsule and found panelists debating the then pressing issue: “Is Stereo Necessary?” The panel included jazz greats Gerry Mulligan and Woody Herman as well as RCA chief engineer Bill Miltenberg, and resulted in exchanges like the following (just substitute CD vs. MP3 to bring the dialog into the current day):
Miltenberg: “I think of monaural recording…like having a shower with the water coming from just one point. I like to take a shower with the water coming from all directions.”
Mulligan: “Yeah, but you don’t want the hot water coming from one point and all the cold coming from another.”
The GRAMMYs would not actually be broadcast in stereo for many years to come—though it’s now available in 5.1 surround sound—yet the show itself was now growing bigger and, yes, hotter with every year.