By Fernando Gonzalez
The GRAMMY Awards may get far more attention, but no event during GRAMMY Week is more significant or heartfelt than The Recording Academy's Special Merit Awards Ceremony. Taking place at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on Feb. 9, the ceremony recognized artists, technical professionals and executives who have made significant contributions to our culture in general and the music industry in particular.
Citing remarks once made by Bono at this event, Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow said, "This is the heart and soul of the Academy." And it felt that way.
This year's selections for the Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors performers, covered a broad spectrum of music styles, including pianist Glenn Gould, jazz bassist and bandleader Charlie Haden, Texas blues legend Lightnin' Hopkins, singer/songwriter Carole King, pop/country singer Patti Page, sitar master Ravi Shankar, and R&B group the Temptations.
The honorees of the Trustees Award, which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the industry, other than performance, were songwriters Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Chess records co-founders Leonard and Phil Chess, and executive Alan Livingston. The Technical GRAMMY Award recipients were MIDI founders Ikutaro Kakehashi and Dave Smith and renown ribbon microphone manufacturer Royer Labs.
"We say if there is a dry eye in the house at the end we haven't done a good job," said Portnow, invoking a laugh from the audience. But there were many touching moments.
For example, the soft-spoken Haden helped himself to the stage with a cane. Haden is battling an onset of post-polio syndrome, an illness he suffered from as teenager that unexpectedly returned in 2010. But that didn't stop him from talking about the beauty of making music.
Anoushka Shankar and Norah Jones spoke with humor and reverence for their father, Ravi Shankar, who passed away in December 2012.
"Someone was talking today about music for fun or getting laid," said Shankar. "Well, as many women are fond of telling me, he did a lot of that. But [he] was all about music."
And the evening only got better as everyone had a favorite moment to share or a reason to celebrate. Lightnin' Hopkins' granddaughter recalled how her grandfather would call himself Po' Lightnin'; the Bergmans were celebrating 55 years of marriage; and Carole King's daughters Louise Goffin and Sherry Kondor made a video of the audience wishing their mother, who is on tour in Australia, a happy birthday. King also sent a touching message via video.
There were also intriguing twists. As it turns out, Gould gave his last public performance at age 31 at this very same theater on April 10, 1964.
It all culminated with the Temptations, with the son of the late Melvin Franklin, Niquos Franklin, wishing the audience a "merry Christmas from the Temptations," with his father's signature deep baritone
For music lovers, it was Christmas in February.