Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1967
Photo: David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images
From Chicago To Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Here's Who Was Honored At The 2020 GRAMMY Salute To Music Legends
Tonight, Oct. 16, the Recording Academy celebrated the lifelong contributions of an incredibly talented, prolific group of artists and music professionals during Great Performances: GRAMMY Salute to Music Legends. Those celebrated included musical icons and 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award honorees Chicago, Roberta Flack, Isaac Hayes, Iggy Pop, John Prine, Public Enemy and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. But that's not all!
Longtime GRAMMY Awards show producer Ken Ehrlich, GRAMMY-winning film composer Philip Glass and music executive Frank Walker also received warm honors as the 2020 Trustees Award winners. Studio speaker pioneer George Augspurger was recognized with the Technical GRAMMY Award and middle school band teacher Mickey Smith Jr. won this year's Music Educator Award.
The special, hosted by the golden-voiced Jimmy Jam, also featured appearances from Brandi Carlile, Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom, Jr., Chris Isaak, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Cyndi Lauper, Earth, Wind & Fire's Philip Bailey, Sam & Dave's Sam Moore, Yola and Laurie Anderson, who each brought the honorees' music to life with moving tribute performances.
The stellar performances and speeches were filmed safely from multiple locations, marking the first time the GRAMMY Salute to Music Legends has not been filmed in front of a live audience. In spite of the limitations, the unforgettable music and legacies of every honoree filled the program with plenty of shimmer, excitement and emotion. As Jam said during his opening segment, "Music is a source of solace and strength." Read on for a recap of the evening:
First up to perform was Nigerian-British GRAMMY, Tony and Emmy winning actor/singer Erivo, paying musical tribute to four-time GRAMMY-winning soul icon Flack. Erivo delivered a stunning, heartwrenching serenade of 1973 GRAMMYs Record Of The Year, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." The tender love song was featured in Clint Eastwood's 1971 movie, Play Misty For Me, and gave the singer a wider fanbase.
"Roberta once said, 'See every opportunity as golden and keep your eyes on the prize, yours, not anybody else's,'" Erivo said before introducing her duet partner for the next song, fellow actor/singer and Flack fan, Odom, Jr. (of Hamilton fame).
The pair then sang another of Flack's GRAMMY-winning classics, "Where Is The Love," from the 1972 duet album with Donny Hathaway. Erivo and Odom, Jr. offered soul and chemistry—socially distanced, of course—from the famous Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. in Hollywood, Calif.
"Music is everything to me," Flack said during her acceptance speech. "Thank you for letting me into your hearts, and allowing my music it be a part of you. Together we have shared life's triumphs, sorrows, joys and dreams. All of it matters, each story in each heart. Challenge yourself to never give up."
Powerhouse singer Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire—who took home their own Lifetime Achievement Awards in 2016—delivered the third epic cover of the evening: a soulful, romantic rendition of Chicago's GRAMMY-winning "If You Leave Me Now," complete with his iconic falsetto.
He was introduced by Chicago-born actor Joe Montanya, who also presented the award to the band's surviving members.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Born in Arkansas in 1915 into a family of gospel singers, cotton pickers and evangelists, Tharpe was the Godmother of Rock and Roll. Like so many pioneering Black women pushed to the margins of history, her impact on rock and gospel far exceeded the recognition she received during her lifetime. In recent years, Tharpe has finally started to earn more credit for her role in shaping a global sound—she directly influenced Elvis Presley and other revered male rock figures.
GRAMMY-nominated British soul/country singer/songwriter Yola delivered a rousing vocal performance of "Up Above My Head, I Hear Music In The Air" at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. This was followed by amazing footage of Tharpe performing "Didn't It Rain" at a Manchester train station in 1964. From a church in Ireland, Rihannon Giddens presented her award to Tharpe's granddaughter Angela McCollum.
Before Detroit producer/bass player Don Was presented Michigan-born punk-rock icon Pop with his Lifetime Achievement Award, he interviewed punk/metal artist Henry Rollins about the influence the "Lust For Life" singer had on him.
"You simply couldn't take your eyes off him," Rollins noted, sharing his love for Pop's wild stage presence. The influential, ever-evolving singer accepted his award with gratitude for his fans, closing with a "punk on."
Next up for performances was 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award winner Moore, of soul duo Sam & Dave, who paid tribute to his friend and collaborator Hayes. The legendary "Black Moses" singer/songwriter/producer first began making his musical mark at Memphis' Stax Records in the '60s, where he wrote and produced a number of hits, including "Hold On I'm Coming," "Soul Man" and other memorable, successful records for Sam & Dave.
His deep musicality, legendary baritone vocals and soulful delivery made Hayes a successful solo artist as well. And with his GRAMMY- and Oscar-winning soundtrack/score for Shaft, he became the first Black person to win an Oscar in a non-acting role.
Moore sang a lively, joyful melody of Hayes-penned hits, filled with 100 percent soul: "I Thank You," "You Don't Know," "Soul Man," "You Got Me Hummin'" and "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby."
While introducing Moore, the evening's Emmy-winning music director Greg Phillinganes stated, "Isaac once said, 'There's many hurdles, so I just keep moving, just constantly redefining myself. That's how you stay in the race.' And he proved that quote well with his amazingly long career."
Hayes' award was accepted by his son Isaac Hayes III, who spoke to the connection between artist rights and racial equality, as well as the vital importance of voting.
Baltimore-born Glass, one of the two 2020 Trustees Award recipients, has been composing and performing beloved operas, film scores, concert pieces and theater works for decades. Ever the expansive composer, he's also collaborated with major singer/songwriters like David Bowie and Paul Simon.
The next musical offering was delivered by Glass' longtime friend Anderson, an avant-garde artist, who played "Gee Whiz." They co-wrote the calming, experimental song together for a show at La MaMa theater in N.Y.C., in honor of Ellen Stewart, who founded the space in 1961. She accepted the award on her friend's behalf.
The second Trustees Award recipient was Walker, a pioneering A&R executive at Colombia Records, born in rural New York in 1889. During his illustrious career, he discovered country stars Hank Williams, Bessie Smith and Blind Willie Johnson. He also temporarily left retirement to help launch MGM Records and sign Williams.
To celebrate Walker's contributions the music industry, crooner Isaak delivered a rendition of Williams' melancholic breakup anthem "Your Cheatin' Heart," from at RCA Studio A in Nashville with help from some talented friends.
In 1990, the epic protest anthem "Fight The Power" earned Public Enemy their first GRAMMY nomination, plus five more to date, as they continue to release hard-hitting, socially conscious music to this day. During their tribute, viewers saw the track's Spike Lee-directed music video (the Oscar winner famously requested the song for his classic 1989 film, Do The Right Thing).
The group's award was presented to them by fellow New York rap hero LL Cool J. "The record shows that Public Enemy have fought the power like no other group in history. On stage and off, Public Enemy were an undeniable and fearless force," he said.
During the acceptance speeches, we heard from all four original members Flava Flav, Chuck D, Professor Griff and Terminator X, the latter of whom spoke through the beats with a mini DJ set.
Mickey Smith Jr.
The 2020 Music Educator Award recipient was Smith, a teacher and bandleader at Maplewood Middle School in Sulphur, La., where he's taught for the last 15 years. He delivered a deeply moving, motivational speech, closing with, "To everyone that's watching, you have a sound. Let us be the sound to change the world."
The 2020 Technical GRAMMY Award went to Augspurger, a longtime acoustician and pioneer in studio and speaker design. After 70 years in the industry, he's still designing custom monitors and studios and teaches a class in loudspeaker design at the University of Southern California. Jam presented the award to Augsburger.
Ehrlich, a.k.a. the creator of the GRAMMY Moment, produced his first GRAMMYs in 1980. There, the debut GRAMMY Moment happened between Barbra Striesand and Neil Diamond, who sang "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." He's also worked on the Emmys, GRAMMY Tribute specials and other award-winning variety and award shows.
To pay honor to the man behind so much GRAMMY magic, Lauper sang an acoustic version of "Time After Time," noting that it was his favorite song of hers.
EGOT John Legend exuberantly presented the award to Erlich, explaining how his invitation to perform "All Of Me" on the GRAMMY stage in 2014 helped make the song a hit, his only No. 1 on the Hot 100. Erlich accepted his award with a big smile.
Beloved Illinois-born singer/songwriter Prine was set to perform during the show before we sadly lost the folk/Americana hero to COVID-19 in April.
To honor him, Nashville power couple Isbell and Shires sang Prine's 1980 song "Storm Windows." Their love for Prine is very personal—Isbell grew up loving his music from a young age and Shires toured with him.
Carlile, meanwhile, performed "I Remember Everything," the beautiful last song he wrote. Before singing, she told a cute story about the first time they performed together and how comforting and kind he was: "He was right, you can always trust John Prine. He also told us the truth with his whole life, and he tells us the truth even today."
Carlile presented Prine's award, which was accepted by his wife, Fiona Prine, who wore an "I am a voter" T-shirt, and sat with their three sons. The family offered appreciation for the award.
Check your local PBS listings to catch the show during an upcoming rerun. PBS members can watch it online and via the PBS Video app for the next four weeks.