In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award. Each year, The Academy invites friends and colleagues of Special Merit Awards recipients to pay tribute to the honorees' career accomplishments, while also adding colorful anecdotes and personal accounts. In the days leading up to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards, GRAMMY.com will present the tributes to the 12 Special Merit Awards recipients for 2011.
When I was at Cornell as a freshman I was a nerd, an outsider and a square. I was immersed in (perhaps obsessed with is the right phrase) traditional folk music. Yet, when I heard the undeniable joy and pleasure of three voices, meeting in midair to create the sound of the Kingston Trio, all of a sudden I was no longer out of step. In an insensitive, biased, selfish era, and a highly stratified society, these three bridged the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us who had to be satisfied with leftover scraps until, and unless, we bootstrapped our way out.
The Kingston Trio transcended this clearly dismal aspect of those times without moralizing, without philosophizing and without preaching. They brought us together by simply being comfortable in their skin, and being together, united as friends. They offered a more hopeful, brighter path to me and, I suspect, to many others.
Their music was a balm to the growing angst of a generation that was soon to turn our country and our world upside down. They tossed off renditions of song gems that felt effortless yet genuine, cool yet caring, sympathetic yet "no big ting." Sometimes they were wistful, as in "Sloop John B"; sometimes they sang a great, happy joke, as in "M.T.A."; sometimes they were oddly, at least for men in those times, sensitive, as in "Tom Dooley"; and sometimes they were wonderfully cutting-edge "hip," as in Bob Shane's classic rendition of "Scotch And Soda."
In college, I imagined them, only a very few years older than me, to be devoid of malevolence or unkindness. And I was right. I met the Kingstons for the first time with Noel Paul and Mary at our first club gig outside of New York, at Boston's mainly jazz club Storyville, owned by George Wein. We were opening up for the immortal Josh White.
I was self-conscious, and secretly blown away by the fact that they had come to see us perform. They were, all three of them, somewhat shy, gracious and oh so just plain nice.
Ah, we were all so young then. We were wide-eyed and green. Singing together was intoxicatingly wonderful. And the Kingston Trio had come to see us perform. Wow!
History has a way of allowing the truth of each era to become trivialized and marginalized, as the "gods" of the next thing obscure what has come before. However, we of the folk family know what we know. We know how much we learned from each other, how we inspired one another, and how indebted we are to those who brought us along in our similar paths.
Let us take our hats off to the Kingston Trio and the wonderment of a new chapter of American life to which they brought us closer. They showed us a very special and never-out-of-style path to love, life, music, and joy. Like the sound of a banjo, their music will always remain one of the best ways, ever, to announce that we are, indeed, a family.
(Peter Yarrow, a former Recording Academy New York Chapter Governor, is a member of Peter, Paul And Mary, who have earned five GRAMMY Awards, including four for "If I Had A Hammer" and "Blowin' In The Wind." In 1999 he founded Operation Respect, a nonprofit dedicated to creating safe school environments, an effort that was recognized by a congressional resolution in 2003.)
The Lifetime Achievement Award, established in 1962, is presented by vote of The Recording Academy's National Trustees to performers who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording. To view a complete list of Lifetime Achievement Award recipients, click here.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Julie Andrews, Roy Haynes, Juilliard String Quartet, Dolly Parton, Ramones, George Beverly Shea
Trustees Award: Al Bell, Wilma Cozart Fine, Bruce Lundvall
Technical GRAMMY Award: Roger Linn, Waves Audio Ltd.