The GRAMMYs' Trailblazing Women, Part One
By Paul Grein
Women have been making history at the GRAMMYs as long as the awards have been presented. In 1958, the first year of the awards, Ella Fitzgerald won two awards: Best Vocal Performance, Female, and Best Jazz Performance, Individual. Opera star Renata Tebaldi and pop singer Keely Smith also took home awards.
Since March is Women's History Month, let's see which women were the first to win in various GRAMMY categories.
These are the first women to win in each current category that has been in place for at least five years. There are 56 categories that meet these criteria, so we're dividing the list in two. Today, we'll look at 26 categories, including Best Comedy Album, Best Music Video and Producer Of The Year, Classical. Tomorrow, we'll look at the remaining 30 categories (including the "big four" awards) as well as the Special Merit Awards.
The fine print: The category names are as they appeared this year. In many cases, the wording has changed over the years. Except in categories that exclusively recognize behind-the-scenes contributions, the focus here is on the first female artists to win. Where the first woman to win shared the prize with a man, we also show the first woman to win on her own.
Best Americana Album
Mavis Staples won the 2010 award for You Are Not Alone.
Best Bluegrass Album
Alison Krauss won the 1990 award for I've Got That Old Feeling.
Best Reggae Album
Sandra "Puma" Jones shared the 1984 award (the first year it was presented) with the male members of Black Uhuru for Anthem.
Best World Music Album
Cesária Évora took the 2003 award for Voz D'Amor.
Best Spoken Word Album (Includes Poetry, Audio Books & Storytelling)
Diane Linkletter won the 1969 award for We Love You, Call Collect, a collaboration with her father, TV personality Art Linkletter. The award was posthumous: Diane Linkletter committed suicide on Oct. 4, 1969, at age 20. Eight years later, actress Julie Harris became the first woman to win on her own for The Belle Of Amherst.
Best Comedy Album
Jo Stafford shared the 1960 award with her husband Paul Weston for Best Comedy Performance (Musical) for their comically off-key Jonathan And Darlene Edwards In Paris, which they released under those alter-egos. Eleven years later, Lily Tomlin became the first woman to win on her own for This Is A Recording.
Best Musical Theater Album
Broadway legends Ethel Merman and Gwen Verdon tied for the 1959 award. Merman won for "Gypsy"; Verdon for "Redhead." Micki Grant was the first woman to win for writing or co-writing a score. She won for 1972's "Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope."
Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media
Marilyn Bergman shared the 1974 award for The Way We Were with her husband, Alan Bergman, and Marvin Hamlisch.
Best Song Written For Visual Media
Cynthia Weil shared the 1987 award (the first year it was presented) for "Somewhere Out There" (from An American Tail). Weil co-wrote the ballad with her husband, Barry Mann, and James Horner. Two years later, Carly Simon became the first woman to win on her own for "Let The River Run" (from Working Girl).
Best Instrumental Composition
The late Jean Hancock shared the 1996 award with her brother, Herbie Hancock, for "Manhattan (Island Of Lights And Love)." The award was posthumous: Jean Hancock died in a 1985 plane crash. Maria Schneider was the first woman to win on her own. She took the 2007 award for "Cerulean Skies."
Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)
Joni Mitchell shared the 1974 award with Tom Scott for arranging "Down To You," a track from her GRAMMY Hall Of Fame-inducted album, Court And Spark. Nan Schwartz was the first woman to win on her own. She took the 2008 award for arranging Natalie Cole's recording of the standard "Here's That Rainy Day."
Best Recording Package
Jann Haworth shared the 1967 award with Peter Blake as art directors on the Beatles' landmark Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Janet Perr was the first woman to win on her own. She took the 1984 award as art director on Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual.
Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package
Gail Zappa shared the 1995 award with her late husband, Frank Zappa, as art directors for his Civilization Phaze III. (Frank Zappa died in 1993.) Susan Archie was the first woman to win on her own. She took the 2002 award as art director of Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues — The Worlds Of Charley Patton.
Best Album Notes
Thulani Davis shared the 1992 award as an album notes writer on Aretha Franklin's Queen Of Soul — The Atlantic Recordings. Her co-winners were Tom Dowd, Ahmet Ertegun, Arif Mardin, Dave Marsh, David Ritz, and Jerry Wexler.
Best Historical Album
Ethel Gabriel shared the 1982 award as a producer of The Tommy Dorsey/Frank Sinatra Sessions — Vols. 1, 2 & 3. Her co-winners were Alan Dell and Don Wardell.
Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical
Trina Shoemaker shared the 1998 award for engineering Sheryl Crow's The Globe Sessions. Her co-winners were Tchad Blake and Andy Wallace. Eleven years later, Imogen Heap became the first woman to win on her own for engineering her own album, Ellipse.
Best Surround Sound Album
Darcy Proper shared the 2006 award as the surround mastering engineer on Donald Fagen's Morph The Cat. Her co-winners were Fagen and Elliot Scheiner.
Best Engineered Album, Classical
Leslie Ann Jones and Brandie Lane shared the 2010 award for engineering Quincy Porter: Complete Viola Works by Eliesha Nelson and John McLaughlin Williams. Their co-winners were Kory Kruckenberg and David Sabee. (Note: In 1999 Jones became the first female Chair of The Recording Academy's Board of Trustees.)
Producer Of The Year, Classical
Joanna Nickrenz shared the 1983 award with Marc Aubort. Ten years later, Judith Sherman became the first woman to win on her own.
Best Opera Recording
Jeannine Altmeyer, Ortrun Wenkel and Gwyneth Jones shared the 1982 award for their work on "Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen." Their co-winners were conductor Pierre Boulez, Peter Hofmann, Manfred Jung and Heinz Zednick.
Best Choral Performance
Margaret Hillis shared the 1977 award as choral director of "Verdi: Requiem" by the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Her co-winner was conductor Georg Solti.
Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance
Anne-Sophie Mutter shared the 1999 award with Lambert Orkis for "Beethoven: The Violin Sonatas."
Best Classical Vocal Solo
Soprano Renata Tebaldi took the 1958 award (the first year of the GRAMMYs) for "Operatic Recital."
Best Contemporary Classical Composition
Joan Tower took the 2007 award for composing "Made In America," recorded by Leonard Slatkin and the Nashville Symphony.
Best Music Video/Best Music Film
Olivia Newton-John won the 1982 award for Video Of The Year for Olivia Physical, a 13-song video album. Today, that would fall into the Best Music Film category. Paula Abdul won the 1990 award for Best Music Video — Short Form for "Opposites Attract." Today, that would fall into the Best Music Video category.
And that's just half of the list. Come back tomorrow for part two, which will feature such stars as Judy Garland, Carole King, Madonna, Shakira, and Patti LaBelle.
(Paul Grein, a veteran music journalist and historian, writes regularly for Yahoo Music.)