meta-scriptFrom Small Stages To The GRAMMY Stage: How Four Venue Professionals Became Presenters At The 2021 GRAMMY Awards Show |
Apollo Theater

The Apollo Theater

Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images


From Small Stages To The GRAMMY Stage: How Four Venue Professionals Became Presenters At The 2021 GRAMMY Awards Show

Operators and staff at the Station Inn, the Troubadour, the Apollo Theater and Hotel Café appeared during the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show to petition viewers for help—and promise an epic party for them if they do

GRAMMYs/Mar 24, 2021 - 07:43 pm

The Recording Academy reimagined everything about the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show on a more intimate scale, and the choice of presenters was no different. When it came time to announce the Best Country Album winner, the person who appeared on screen wasn't a slick Nashville superstar, but a soft-spoken, older man who's unrecognizable to a global audience but beloved in the Music City. His name was J.T. Gray, and he grinned ear-to-ear on national TV.

In a segment recorded a month prior, Gray showed the camera crew around the Station Inn, the 145-person-capacity bluegrass venue he'd owned since 1981. Despite the room receiving almost no income for a year due to the live music industry shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gray was rosy about the future. "Getting to reopen the Station Inn, that's going to be a celebration like never before," he promised. "It's going to be a big party." He then announced the winner, Miranda Lambert, to the world. Gray was naturally quiet and reserved, a closed book. Not after that shoot, though.

"He was just beside himself the whole time," Jeff Brown, the Station Inn's marketing director, tells "He just never believed it was happening. He just didn't believe that his little venue was being recognized on that kind of scale, that those many people in a place with the GRAMMYs and the Recording Academy's recognition actually paid attention. He just couldn't believe it." On Sunday, March 14, Gray astonishedly watched himself on CBS. The following Saturday, he passed away after a struggle with compounding health problems.

Gray might not get to attend the "big party" when things open up. But 9 million people heard his message.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The Troubadour offers our deepest condolences to JT Grey’s family, friends, and those at <a href="">@stationinn1974</a>. JT created a special home for bluegrass, country music, and more in Nashville, TN. He leaves behind a beautiful legacy and will be missed by many.<a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Troubadour (@theTroubadour) <a href="">March 24, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

For a year, venues worldwide have been hanging on by a thread: struggling to pay their rent, waiting in vain for federal aid, and given no clear finish line as to when they can reopen. That's why, with the Recording Academy's blessing, Executive Producer Ben Winston asked Gray, as well as representatives from the Troubadour and Hotel Café in Los Angeles and the Apollo Theater in New York City, to present at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards and talk about their economic struggles during the pandemic. Together, they sounded a shared refrain to the world: We matter to our communities, and we need help.

The venues that spoke their piece during the 63rd GRAMMY Awards were members of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). An assemblage of independent venue owners and promoters from around the country, NIVA formed directly in response to the 2020 lockdown. "We figured we'd better find a way to come together and lobby for federal assistance," Audrey Schaefer, a board member and the Communications Director for NIVA, tells "Because otherwise, we're all going under."

The Steel Wheels at Station Inn in 2015. Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Americana Music via Getty Images

Last year, NIVA, along with the Recording Academy and other music organizations, lobbied Congress via the Save Our Stages Act and succeeded. On Dec. 27, the decree became the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant and passed along with the COVID relief package. "In that grant fund is $16 billion," Schaefer says. "For an organization that didn't exist before … nobody gave us any hopes of being able to secure that kind of funding. But we did. We got the law passed."

However, venues have not yet seen that money. "We understand that the applications will start at the beginning of April," she adds with relief in her voice.

In the meantime, Scheafer mulled over how best to convey to the world the existential crises venues face. "I was thinking that the GRAMMYs couldn't possibly be at the Beverly Hilton like it normally is—in a big ballroom—because we can't be together," she says. "I thought, 'What if the GRAMMYs were to have the award show, and instead of having all the performances under one roof, they were to have them in independent venues?'"

To try and give this idea legs, Schaefer reached out to Daryl Friedman, Chief Advocacy Officer of the Recording Academy's Advocacy division. "He said, 'Listen, Audrey, I think that's a great idea, but they have a million great ideas. So, let me take it to them and we'll see what happens,'" she recalls. Schaefer persistently followed up. "I kept asking Daryl, 'What do you think? What are you hearing?'"

But unbeknown to her, the Recording Academy and the production team were already independently planning to highlight independent venues and their employees as an advocacy initiative and add a personal moment to the broadcast. "And then I found out that, oh my gosh, they do want to do it," she adds with awe.

Billie Eilish at the Troubadour in 2019. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Granted, the Recording Academy didn't agree to host performances at independent venues. But Schaefer calls the idea they decided to go with "so much better." Instead, venue professionals would take viewers on a tour of their workplaces, illustrating their value to their communities and why they desperately need help. Participants included the Station Inn's Gray; Rachelle Erratchu, the night manager at the Troubadour; Billy Mitchell, the tour guide and overall house cat at the Apollo Theater in Harlem; and Candice Fox, a bartender at the Hotel Café in Hollywood.

For Erratchu, the problem extends further than keeping the lights on at the Troubadour; the entire live music ecosystem is in trouble. "We need everybody else to survive so that we can survive," she tells "If we don't exist and all the other venues across the country don't exist, the tour circuit as we know it and have relied on it for decades won't exist anymore."

For Billy Mitchell, the Historical Tour Manager and overall global representative of the Apollo Theater who has earned the title of "Mr. Apollo," his job isn't a means to an end; he lives and breathes it. Mitchell's time at the Apollo began in 1965 when he ran errands for James Brown and his band. During the telecast, Mitchell relates a funny story of how the Godfather of Soul sent him all the way home to the Bronx to get his report card, threatening to put his job on ice if he didn't get better grades.

COVID forced the Apollo to temporarily furlough some its staff. To be forced to stop, it was heartbreaking, to be honest with you," Mitchell tells "I give tours to people from all over the world, and they're unable to visit because of COVID restrictions and things like that." While the not-for-profit has offered digital programming in the meantime, most of it has been free as not to burden fans. Thankfully, at press time, all staff members have returned full-time.

Billy Mitchell at the Apollo Theater in 2009. Photo: Jemal Countess/WireImage via Getty Images​

The Apollo has been lucky, in a sense; corporate and private donations have kept it afloat. Still, they're not out of the woods yet. "Donations are needed so that when we do reopen, we can pump out those great shows and bring back our staff," Mitchell says. "We want to bring back our staff as soon as possible." 

In the clip played during the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, Mitchell addressed viewers from the empty audience. "We miss our audience and we can't wait until our doors open up again," he says. "We just can't wait."

Candice Fox, a bartender at Hollywood's Hotel Café, believes there will be an outpouring of activity at her workplace once it's safe again. "I like to believe people are going to want to make up for lost time," she tells "I know that people are itching to perform. People are so excited to experience that exchange of energy again. So, I think it's going to explode."

In line with Erratchu's thoughts on the overall music ecosystem, Fox notes that Katy Perry cut her teeth at the 65-capacity room on Cahuenga Boulevard. "She wasn't the big pop star she is now; she was just a girl with a guitar," she says. "So many artists' careers and the GRAMMYs couldn't exist without small, independent venues like the Hotel Café because you've got to start somewhere." In her clip, Fox ruminates on the regulars she's missed for a year, pouring a Boddingtons and mixing an Old Fashioned to an array of empty stools.

Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds at Hotel Café in 2015. Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images​   

At the end of every venue vignette, each venue representative announced the winner of their assigned categories: Best Country Album for Gray (Miranda Lambert's Wildcard), Best Pop Solo Performance for Erratchu (Harry Styles' "Watermelon Sugar"), Best Rap Song for Billy Mitchell (Beyoncé's and Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage Remix") and Album Of The Year for Fox (Taylor Swift's folklore). All four were thrilled to appear and encourage viewers to support their workplaces—whether by donating directly, paying for a livestream or purchasing a T-shirt. 

That way, the lights at the Station Inn, the Troubadour, the Apollo and Hotel Café can flare up again, ensuring these cultural hubs don't become figments of the past. And if you want to know how memorable the inevitable "COVID is over" parties will be, just look at Gray's blazing smile during the GRAMMYs.

"I can probably count a very [small] number of times that I've seen him truly smile," the Station Inn's Brown reflects. "But truly smiling—that's what he was doing here."

Click here to support the Station Inn.

Click here to support the Troubadour.

Click here to support the Apollo Theater.

Click here to support Hotel Café.

Click here to support NIVA.

Capturing Los Angeles' COVID-Closed Venues

Jon Batiste
Jon Batiste

Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images


GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Jon Batiste’s Encouraging Speech For His 2022 Album Of The Year Win For 'We Are'

Jon Batiste accepts the Album Of The Year award for We Are, a win that he dedicated to "real artists, real musicians."

GRAMMYs/Apr 26, 2024 - 04:50 pm

Jon Batiste walked into the 2022 GRAMMYs with a whopping 11 nominations, making him the most recognized artist of the evening. By the end of the night, he received five GRAMMYs for Best American Roots Performance, Best American Roots Song, Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media, Best Music Video, and the highly coveted Album Of The Year.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, watch Batiste take the stage to accept the award for Album Of The Year for his sixth studio album, We Are

Batiste began his praises by acknowledging God: "I just put my head down and work on the craft every day. I love music, he said. "I've been playing since I was a little boy. It's more than entertainment for me — it's a spiritual practice." He also thanked the "many people that went into making this album," including his grandfather, nephew, father, and executive producer, Ryan Lynn.

"This [award] is for real artists, real musicians. Let's just keep going. Be you! That's it. I love you even if I don't know you," Batiste cheered.

Press play on the video above to hear Jon Batiste's complete acceptance speech and check back to for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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Taylor Swift hold her GRAMMY Awards from the 2016 GRAMMYs
Taylor Swift at the 2016 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty Images


GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Taylor Swift Become The First Woman To Win Album Of The Year Twice

Celebrate the release of ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ by revisiting the night Taylor Swift made history as the first woman to win Album Of The Year twice at the 2016 GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Apr 18, 2024 - 10:32 pm

At the 2024 GRAMMYs, Taylor Swift became the artist with the most Album Of The Year awards in GRAMMY history with four total wins. But her first record-breaking AOTY moment traces back eight years ago, when she became the first woman to win the category twice.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, relive the moment she won the historic golden gramophone for her iconic fifth studio album, 1989, at the 2016 GRAMMYs.

“I want to thank the fans for the last 10 years,” Swift beamed, praising her loyal fanbase, the Swifties. She later acknowledged the Recording Academy for “this unbelievable honor” and the project’s main producer, Max Martin, who “deserved to be up there for 25 years.”

Before she left the stage, she offered an inspiring message to aspiring female musicians in light of her groundbreaking win. “To all the young women, there are going to be people along the way who try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame,” she explained. “But if you just focus on the work and don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday, when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there. That will be the greatest feeling in the world.”

Check out Taylor Swift’s complete acceptance speech for her second Album Of The Year win, before diving into the release of The Tortured Poets Department, and check back to for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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Taylor Swift AOTY Win Photo
Taylor Swift accepts Album Of The Year at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy


2024 GRAMMYs: Taylor Swift Makes GRAMMY History With Fourth Album Of The Year Win For 'Midnights'

'Midnights' earned Taylor Swift her fourth Album Of The Year win at the 2024 GRAMMYs — the most of any artist of all time.

GRAMMYs/Feb 5, 2024 - 04:42 am

Taylor Swift has made GRAMMY history once again.

The pop superstar won the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year for Midnights at the 2024 GRAMMYs, marking her fourth win in the Category — the most Album Of The Year wins of any artist at the GRAMMYs. (She had been tied with Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, and Paul Simon.) 

Swift was shocked as she accepted the award, bringing up her producer Jack Antonoff — who had already won the GRAMMY for Producer of the Year — and collaborator Lana Del Rey, who was also nominated for Album Of The Year for Did You Know There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. She acknowledged both in her acceptance speech, calling Antonoff "a once in a generation producer" and Del Rey "a legacy artist, a legend in her prime right now." 

She continued, "I would love to tell you that this is the best moment of my life, but I feel this happy when I finish a song, or when I crack to code to a bridge I love, or when I'm shortlisting a music video, or when I'm rehearsing with my dancers or my band, or getting ready to go to Tokyo to play a show. For me the award is the work. All I wanna do is keep being able to do this. I love it so much, it makes me so happy." 

The 66th GRAMMY Awards were already a big night for Swift before her Album Of The Year victory. Midnights won Best Pop Vocal Album earlier in the telecast, marking her 13th win; as Swifties know, 13 is Swift's lucky number because of her Dec. 13 birthday.

And at the 2024 GRAMMYs, it was her lucky number indeed: along with making history, Swift used her first win to announce a brand-new album. Swift will release her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, on April 19.

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Miley Cyrus wins first grammy
Miley Cyrus wins a GRAMMY for Best Pop Solo Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy


2024 GRAMMYs: Miley Cyrus Wins First-Ever GRAMMY For "Flowers"

Miley Cyrus kicked off Music's Biggest Night with a big win: her very first GRAMMY Award. The eight-time nominee took home a golden gramophone for Best Pop Solo Performance for "Flowers."

GRAMMYs/Feb 5, 2024 - 02:14 am

Miley Cyrus has finally gotten her "Flowers."

That's the title of Cyrus' effervescent hit single from her 2023 album Endless Summer Vacation, which just won a golden gramophone at the 2024 GRAMMYs for Best Pop Solo Performance. The track won the 31-year-old singer her very first GRAMMY Award.

"Flowers" was also nominated for GRAMMYs for Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year. Endless Summer Vacation itself has been nominated for Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. Additionally, Cyrus is nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Thousand Miles."

We'll need to watch Music's Biggest Night to the end to see if she wins more GRAMMYs. For now, keep watching the telecast, and keep checking for more updates from the show!

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Winners & Nominees List (Updating Live)