The Prelude To Music's Biggest Night
Every year the GRAMMY Awards show presents memorable and unique performances to a worldwide audience and announces a select group of major awards for the greatest musical achievements of the year. In fact, there are only 10 trophies handed out during the show itself out of 81 total awards.
GRAMMYs for the other 70-plus categories are presented at the GRAMMY Pre-Telecast Ceremony, which has come to be known as the prelude to Music's Biggest Night. The two-hour-plus event has grown in size and recognition over the past few years, and once again will be streamed live at www.grammy.com as part of the comprehensive three-day GRAMMY Live coverage. The Pre-Telecast will also be available on-demand for 30 days following the event.
As the stars take to the red carpet for the big show at Staples Center, many nominees will have already learned their fate or fortune at the Pre-Telecast, which is being held for the first time this year at the adjacent Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live, after many years at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The change in venue has inspired an extensive reimagination of the show itself. For many years, the "Pre-Tel" was held on the same stage as the GRAMMY show itself, whether it was at the Shrine Auditorium or Radio City Music Hall in New York or more recently at Staples Center.
"The GRAMMY producers were always breathing down our necks, telling us to wrap it up," recalls Recording Academy Vice President of Awards Bill Freimuth. "There were always things to fix or last-minute rehearsals and people were just tripping all over each other."
As the Pre-Telecast became a separate event to itself, moved to the convention center and grew in stature, so did the scale of the production.
"Now that we're moving to Nokia Theatre," says Freimuth, "it will be a lot more comfortable for the attendees, with nice seats instead of folding chairs. There will be a brand-new set; the whole look will be [enhanced], and the acoustics of the Nokia are considerably better because it is a real music venue."
Larry Batiste, veteran bandleader and musical director for the Pre-Telecast for nearly a decade, is also pleased about the change of venue.
"What the Nokia brings is even more of an awards-show feel," he says, "because those [are] GRAMMYs, real GRAMMYs! I'm really excited about moving over there. It's a better experience for the audience as well as for the nominees; it really puts them in an awards-show environment.
"When I started here, there were maybe two or three performances at the Pre-Tel," Batiste remembers. "Now there are five, and I wish we could have more, but we have so many awards to give out."
An eclectic group of artists will perform at the Pre-Telecast Ceremony, including South African trumpet legend Hugh Masekela, Americana singer/songwriter John Fullbright, Indian multi-instrumentalist Krishna Das, avant-garde classical group Eighth Blackbird, and R&B artists Tyrese and Elle Varner. Batiste has a 10-piece band of top-drawer players to support this broad canvas of styles.
"We've got a big band, so I can cover whatever comes up," he says. "With Hugh Masekela, I can do the horns; we want to play something in the genre of whatever category we're in, so I try to tailor it to that."
The Pre-Telecast will also feature main host David Alan Grier and presenters Radmilla Cody, Janis Ian, Jimmy Jam, Kaskade, Britt Nicole, and Manuel Valera.
"We try very hard to choose presenters who are also nominees," Freimuth explains. "The only exception we make is for our Chair Emeritus, Jimmy Jam."
Many stars who are also nominated for awards given out on the big show still try to make it to the Pre-Telecast to hear their nominations in person. In recent years, GRAMMY winners such as Tony Bennett, Foo Fighters, Taylor Swift, Melanie Fiona, Carrie Underwood, and Skrillex have attended, and now the physical convenience of the Nokia Theatre, just across the street from the red carpet, allows for nominees to more easily stop in. But the Pre-Telecast makes for a particularly attractive opportunity for talented artists who don't always have access to a worldwide audience.
"One thing that we try very hard to do with the Pre-Tel as a whole is highlight genres that are not necessarily highlighted on the telecast," says Freimuth. "The telecast really focuses on pop, rock and rap, R&B and country, so we often try to get classical and American roots, jazz and that sort of thing."
"It's a great experience," says Batiste. "I really feel very rewarded afterwards, working with all the artists. It's a real joy."
(John Sutton-Smith is a music journalist and TV producer who helped establish the GRAMMY Foundation's GRAMMY Living Histories oral history program, currently comprising almost 200 interviews.)