Following Whitney Houston’s inspired opening performance of “One Moment In Time” — a song she recorded for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea — host Billy Crystal proclaimed, “This year promises to be a kinder, gentler GRAMMY,” borrowing one of then-President George H.W. Bush’s stated objectives for the nation.
Ultimately, it wasn’t all kinder and gentler — however it was a year in which Bobby McFerrin’s famously upbeat “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was named Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, not to mention another McFerrin win for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male, for a different song (“Brothers”). McFerrin — billed by Crystal as “the GRAMMY Symphony Orchestra” — also performed a wide-ranging and witty history of music, vocalizing as Crystal spoke.
Yet this was also a very big year for Tracy Chapman, whose “Fast Car” spoke powerfully to real life worries and the eternal desire for escape. By the end of the evening at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Chapman was named Best New Artist and took home the GRAMMY Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, and Best Contemporary Folk Recording.
Other performing artists brought a welcome edge to the 31st proceedings, including the always-interesting Sinéad O’Connor performing “Mandinka” from her debut album, The Lion And The Cobra, and Lyle Lovett, who brought his brilliantly offbeat brand of down-home music to a country sequence that also featured a memorable duet by Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens on “Streets Of Bakersfield.”
But it was the addition of some new metal at the 31st GRAMMY Awards that would prove more controversial. During the show, Crystal explained, “Not too long ago heavy metal was confined to the underground, but times change and the GRAMMYs change with the times. And we acknowledge the art form that is keeping the rebellious essence of rock and roll alive, and have added a GRAMMY Award in that category for the first time this year.” The new category was called Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance, Vocal Or Instrumental, and Crystal then introduced one of the nominees — Metallica. The group performed a characteristically intense and explosive version of “One” from the album ...And Justice For All (which likely included the first use of machine gun sound effects on the GRAMMYs). However, when Alice Cooper and Lita Ford came out to present the award, the GRAMMY went to veteran rock act Jethro Tull — a fine group of longstanding musicians, but arguably the least hard or metal of the nominees. The category and Metallica performance were proof of GRAMMY’s ambition, though the category proved too broad. The next year it would be dubbed more purely Best Metal Performance, and Metallica’s “One” would take the prize.
In an ever changing musical world, the 31st Annual GRAMMYs also significantly marked the very first year of the Best Rap Performance category with the award going to D.J. Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince for “Parents Just Don’t Understand” during the pre-telecast ceremonies. As presenter Kool Moe Dee eloquently commented: “On the behalf of all MCs, my co-workers and fellow nominees — Jazzy Jeff, J.J. Fad, Salt-N-Pepa and the boy who’s bad — we personify power and a drug-free mind, and we express ourselves through rhythm and rhyme. So I think it’s time that the whole world knows rap is here to stay.”
Linda Ronstadt, meanwhile, showcased her Mexican-American heritage with a fine performance of “La Charreada” from her winning Canciones De Mi Padre, complete with a mariachi band and dancers. She followed this performance by taking home the Best Mexican-American Performance GRAMMY.
Other moments on this show were reminders of the GRAMMY Award’s unique ability to blend genres and bring together generations with ease and grace. Three Lifetime Achievement Award recipients — Leontyne Price, Sarah Vaughan and Dizzy Gillespie — all gave vital, crowd-pleasing performances, and famed violinist Itzhak Perlman made an excellent point when he noted that he was happy to see classical music doing so well in the “race for space on the GRAMMY show. We may not sell as many records as our associates in the pop, rock and country fields, but you must admit our hits last a long time.”
On the GRAMMY Awards telecast, it’s all good in the end. As Billy Crystal rightly said in his closing thought for the night: “The more you love music, the more music you love.”