Graphic: The Recording Academy
The Recording Academy Announces 2023 Special Merit Awards Honorees: Nirvana, Nile Rodgers, The Supremes, Ann Wilson And Nancy Wilson Of Heart, Slick Rick "The Ruler" & Many More
The 2023 Special Merit Awards honorees include Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Ma Rainey, Bobby McFerrin and many others. The Special Merit Awards Ceremony returns to Los Angeles as an in-person event in February during GRAMMY Week 2023.
With the 2023 GRAMMYs season in full swing, the Recording Academy has announced the 2023 Special Merit Awards honorees.
Bobby McFerrin, Nirvana, Ma Rainey, Nile Rodgers, Slick Rick "The Ruler," The Supremes, and Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson of Heart are the 2023 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipients; Henry Diltz, Ellis Marsalis and Jim Stewart are the Trustees Award recipients; and the Audio Engineering Society (AES) and Dr. Andy Hildebrand are the Technical GRAMMY Award honorees. The Best Song For Social Change honoree will be announced at a later date.
The Recording Academy's corresponding Special Merit Awards Ceremony celebrating the 2023 Special Merit Awards recipients will return as an in-person event for the first time since 2020 on Feb. 4, 2023, at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles during GRAMMY Week 2023.
"The Academy is proud to celebrate this diverse slate of influential music people spanning numerous genres and crafts as our 2023 Special Merit Awards honorees," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. said. "Each creator on this list has made an impact on our industry — from technical to creative achievements — representing the breadth of music's diverse community. We're excited to celebrate this group of legends next month that continues to inspire and shape the music world."
Lifetime Achievement Award Honorees: This Special Merit Award 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; ^through 1972, recipients included non-performers.
Bobby McFerrin is a 10-time GRAMMY Award winner who has blurred the distinction between pop music and fine art. His exploration of uncharted vocal territory inspired a whole new generation of a cappella singers and the beatbox movement. From his trailblazing, solo a cappella performances to his inspired collaborations with Chick Corea and Yo-Yo Ma, his iconic global No. 1 hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and his work conducting top-tier orchestras, McFerrin's calling has always been to connect people through the unlimited possibilities of music. McFerrin redefined the role of the human voice with his experiments in multi-tracking, his collaborations, his improvising choir Voicestra, and his legendary solo performances.
Nirvana was formed in 1987 by Kurt Cobain^ and Krist Novoselic and emerged from the Pacific Northwest onto the world stage with the 1989 release of its debut album Bleach. Two years later Nirvana's sophomore album Nevermind would spark a seismic shift in global youth culture. Rising to No. 1 worldwide and featuring GRAMMY Hall of Fame® single "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nevermind‘s impact would transform Cobain, Novoselic and Dave Grohl into one of the most successful and influential musical entities of all time. Nirvana's third and ultimately final studio album, In Utero, was released in 1993, completing an indelible run that returned rock 'n' roll integrity and passion to the top of the charts. With a 2014 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and more than 75 million records sold, Nirvana continues to be a singular inspiration for generations of fans and musicians the world over.
Ma Rainey^ (Gertrude Pridgett Rainey), often called the "Mother of the Blues," was known for her deep voice and mesmerizing stage presence that drew packed audiences in the early twentieth century. A songwriter as well as a performer, her lyrics and melodies reflected her experiences as an independent, openly bisexual African-American woman. Rainey signed a recording contract with Paramount Records in 1923, making her one of the earliest recorded blues musicians. Between 1923 and 1928, she recorded almost 100 records, many of them national hits that are now part of the American musical canon. Her 1924 recording of "See See Rider Blues" (for which she was accompanied by a young Louis Armstrong) was added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry in 2004.
Nile Rodgers is a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee and a multiple GRAMMY Award-winning songwriter, composer, producer, arranger, and guitarist. As the co-founder of CHIC, Rodgers pioneered a musical language that generated chart-topping hits like "Le Freak," the biggest-selling single in the history of Atlantic Records, and sparked the advent of hip-hop with "Good Times." His work in the CHIC Organization including "We Are Family" with Sister Sledge and "I'm Coming Out" with Diana Ross and his productions for artists like David Bowie ("Let's Dance"), Madonna ("Like A Virgin") and Duran Duran ("The Reflex") have sold over 500 million albums and 100 million singles worldwide while his innovative, trendsetting collaborations with Daft Punk, Daddy Yankee and Beyoncé reflect the vanguard of contemporary hits.
Slick Rick "The Ruler,” renowned as "THE most sampled hip-hop artist in history" and "Hip-hop's greatest storyteller" has set the pace for rap's past, present, and future. The Ruler's catalog, which includes the anthems "La-Di-Da-Di" and "The Show," boasts over 850 samples, ranging from Snoop Dogg's "Lodi Dodi" through Beyoncé and J. Cole's "Party." Noted as "the third artist signed to Def Jam Recordings" and "the most successful British-American rapper," his multi-platinum discography encompasses The Great Adventures of Slick Rick , The Ruler's Back , Behind Bars , and The Art of Storytelling . VH1 Hip Hop Honors celebrated him in 2008, and The Source ranked him among the Top 3 of its "Top 50 Lyricists of All Time."
Two-time GRAMMY Award nominees The Supremes were the leading act of Motown Records during the 1960s. Founded by Diana Ross, Mary Wilson^ and Florence Ballard^, The Supremes were trailblazers in the history of music, transcending all genres as the first female group that defined a generation. They were leaders at a pivotal time during the American Civil Rights movement by bringing together audiences that had racial cultural differences through their style and music. Named the No. 1 female recording group of all time by Billboard in 2017, the group achieved an unprecedented 12 No. 1 hits and five consecutive No. 1s from 1964-1965 with "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love," and "Back in My Arms Again." The Supremes were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 with The Beatles, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994, and were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998.
Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson are being recognized as Lifetime Achievement Award honorees for their creative work with the rock band Heart. Heart was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, sold over 35 million records, garnered four GRAMMY Award nominations, landed 10 Top 10 albums, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, had several No. 1 hits, and achieved "the longest span of top 10 albums on the Billboard charts by a female-led band." Heart's influence can be palpably felt everywhere from rock and heavy metal to hip-hop and pop. As a result, their music resonates in nearly every corner of pop culture.
Read More: GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Awards | The Complete List
Trustees Award Honorees: This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of the Recording Academy's National Trustees to individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions, other than performance^, to the field of recording; ^through 1983, recipients included performers.
Henry Diltz photographed more than 250 album covers and thousands of publicity shots in the 1960s and 1970s as a music photographer, including the iconic Morrison Hotel cover for the Doors. Other artists, whose fly-on-the-wall style portraits he's known for, include musical legends such as the Eagles, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jackson Browne, America, Steppenwolf, James Taylor, Jimi Hendrix, The Monkees, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, and David Cassidy. He was the official photographer at the Woodstock festival in August 1969. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, LIFE, People, Rolling Stone, High Times, and Billboard.
Ellis Marsalis^ was a jazz pianist and music educator regarded by many as the premier modern jazz pianist in New Orleans. He began formal music studies at the Xavier University Junior School of Music at age 11 and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in music education from Dillard University in 1955. In 1986, Marsalis accepted the position of commonwealth professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., where he spent two of the three years as coordinator of jazz studies before returning to New Orleans to become the University of New Orleans' first occupant of the Coca-Cola-endowed chair of jazz studies. In 2008 he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, and in 2011, he was honored with the NEA Jazz Masters Award, along with his sons Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason, given to the Marsalis family.
Jim Stewart^ founded Stax Records and produced some of the greatest rhythm and blues (R&B) records of the 1960s. He was instrumental in launching the careers of Otis Redding, the Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes, Eddie Floyd, Booker T. & the M.G.s, the Staple Singers, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King, Rufus and Carla Thomas, and hundreds of others. With Stewart at the helm, Stax moved some 800 singles and 300 albums, placing more than 167 hit songs in the Top 100 on the pop charts, and a staggering 243 hits in the Top 100 R&B charts. Stewart was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 by Steve Cropper of Booker T. & the M.G.'s, and Sam Moore of Sam & Dave. In 2012, he was also among the first class of inductees to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.
Read More: GRAMMY Trustees Awards | The Complete List
Technical GRAMMY Award Honorees: This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of the Producers & Engineers Wing® Advisory Council and Chapter Committees and ratification by the Recording Academy's National Trustees to individuals and/or companies/organizations/institutions who have made contributions of outstanding technical significance to the recording field.
The Audio Engineering Society (AES) is the only professional society devoted exclusively to advancing audio technology. Founded in 1948 with the key goals of collecting, collating and disseminating knowledge of audio science and its application, AES facilitates communication and collaboration that unites audio engineers, creative artists, scientists, and students, with hundreds of local sections worldwide. 75 years on, AES's members continue to set precedents and standards wherever sound and technology meet, from recording and entertainment to scientific research in emerging fields such as Spatial and Game Audio, Networking and Streaming, and Audio for Virtual and Augmented Reality.
Dr. Andy Hildebrand graduated with a Ph.D. EE from the University of Illinois in 1976, specializing in stochastic processes and estimation theory. After studying music composition at Rice's Shepard School of Music, Hildebrand developed an interest in audio data processing and founded Antares Audio Technology in 1990. At Antares, Hildebrand created the groundbreaking Auto-Tune software program, which was first released in 1997. In 2011, Hildebrand was inducted into the TEC Foundation's "Technology Hall of Fame" for the invention of Auto-Tune.
^Denotes posthumous honoree.
Read More: GRAMMY Technical Awards | The Complete List
Photo Courtesy of the Recording Academy and GRAMMY Museum
212 Quarterfinalists Announced For The 2024 Music Educator Award
The Recording Academy and GRAMMY Museum have announced the quarterfinalists for the 2024 Music Educator Award, which recognizes educators who have made a significant contribution and demonstrate a commitment to music education.
Today, the Recording Academy and GRAMMY Museum have announced a total of 212 music teachers as quarterfinalists for the 2024 Music Educator Award, which recognizes current educators — kindergarten through college across public and private schools — who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools. The quarterfinalists, who hail from 197 cities, were selected from more than 2,000 initial submitted nominations. In addition to the quarterfinalists, 123 legacy applicants from 2023 will also be eligible to win the Music Educator Award this year.
Semi-finalists for the 2024 Music Educator Award will be announced this September. The ultimate recipient will be recognized during GRAMMY Week 2024.
Read More: Meet The 2023 Music Educator Award Recipient: How Pamela Dawson Helps Her Students Achieve Healing And Catharsis
A joint partnership and presentation between the Recording Academy and GRAMMY Museum, the Music Educator Award is open to current U.S. music teachers, and anyone can nominate a teacher — students, parents, friends, colleagues, community members, school deans, and administrators. Teachers are also able to nominate themselves, and nominated teachers are notified and invited to fill out an application.
Each year, one recipient is selected from 10 finalists and recognized for their remarkable impact on students' lives. The 10th annual honoree will be flown to Los Angeles to attend the 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, as well as a range of GRAMMY Week events. The nine additional finalists will receive a $1,000 honorarium, and the schools of all 10 finalists will receive matching grants. Fifteen semi-finalists will receive a $500 honorarium with matching school grants.
Read More: 8 Artists Who Were Inspired By Their Teachers: Rihanna, Adele, Jay-Z & More
The matching grants provided to the schools are made possible by the generosity and support of the GRAMMY Museum’s Education Champion Ford Motor Company Fund. In addition, the American Choral Directors Association, National Association for Music Education, NAMM Foundation, and National Education Association support this program through outreach to their constituencies.
Learn more about the Music Educator Award.
See the full list of the 2024 Music Educator Award quarterfinalists and legacy applicants below:
2024 MUSIC EDUCATOR AWARD QUARTERFINALISTS
|Casie Adams||Martinsburg High School||Martinsburg||West Virginia|
|Bruce Adams||Sam Houston High School||San Antonio||Texas|
|Miguel Aguiar||Southwest High School||San Antonio||Texas|
|Derek Alexander||Orville Bright Elementary School||Chicago||Illinois|
|Dawn Amthor||Wallkill Senior High School||Wallkill||New York|
|Jonathan Anderson||University High School (Volusia)||Orange City||Florida|
|Christopher Andrews||Hephzibah High School||Hephzibah||Georgia|
|Jeanne Andrews||Pauline J. Petway Elementary School||Vineland||New Jersey|
|Justin Antos||Dwight D. Eisenhower High School||Blue Island||Illinois|
|Javier Arau||New York Jazz Academy||New York||New York|
|Andrea Armour||Christian County Middle School||Hopkinsville||Kentucky|
|Timothy Arnold||Orono High School||Long Lake||Minnesota|
|Shawn Athey||Veterans Memorial High School||Corpus Christi||Texas|
|Elizabeth Baker||Mary Martin Elementary||Weatherford||Texas|
|Jeremy Bartunek||Greenbriar School||Northbrook||Illinois|
|Adem Birson||New York University||New York||New York|
|Benjamen Blasko||Lipscomb University||Nashville||Tennessee|
|Amanda Blevins||Tri-Valley High School||Dresden||Ohio|
|Susan Boddie||Valdosta State University||Valdosta||Georgia|
|Adrain Bonner||Lancaster High School||Lancaster||Texas|
|Cherie Bowe||Pascagoula High School||Pascagoula||Mississippi|
|Andrew Bowerly||Tenino High School||Tenino||Washington|
|George Bradshaw||Dover Area High School||Dover||Pennsylvania|
|Gwendolyn Brazier||Lathrop High School||Fairbanks||Alaska|
|Steve Browne||Nashville Community High School||Nashville||Illinois|
|Matthew Brusseau||Davie County High School||Mocksville||North Carolina|
|Ryan Bulgarelli||Loyalsock Township High School||Williamsport||Pennsylvania|
|Cathryn Burt||East Newton High School||Granby||Missouri|
|James Byrn, Jr.||Maconaquah High School||Bunker Hill||Indiana|
|Mary Catherine Campbell||Seven Pines Elementary||Sandston||Virginia|
|Helen Capehart||Bridgeport High School||Bridgeport||Texas|
|Marcos Carreras||Conservatory of The Arts||Springfield||Massachusetts|
|Michael "Patrick" Carte||Scott High School||Madison||West Virginia|
|Curtis Carver||Harlem High School||Harlem||Georgia|
|Roger Chagnon III||Westfield Academy and Central School||Westfield||New York|
|Kristopher Chandler||Gautier High School||Gautier||Mississippi|
|Jeff Chang||Decatur High School||Federal Way||Washington|
|Krista Clay||West Branch High School||Beloit||Ohio|
|Travis Coakley||William Carey University||Hattiesburg||Mississippi|
|Vanessa Cobb||Montgomery Central High School||Cunningham||Tennessee|
|Mark Collins||John S. Battle High School||Bristol||Virginia|
|Trish Conover||Community Middle School||Plainsboro||New Jersey|
|John Contreras||Pueblo High School||Tucson||Arizona|
|Kyle Cook||Western Branch Middle School||Chesapeake||Virginia|
|Travis Cook||Plymouth Christian Academy||Canton||Michigan|
|Daniel Cook||University of North Texas||Denton||Texas|
|Andrew Cote||Merrimack College||North Andover||Massachusetts|
|Drew Cowell||Belleville East High School||Belleville||Illinois|
|Cory Craig||Benton Intermediate School||Benton||Louisiana|
|Matthew Cunningham||Brockton High School||Brockton||Massachusetts|
|Shannon Curtis||Zimmerman Middle High School||Zimmerman||Minnesota|
|Isaac Daniel||Stax Music Academy||Memphis||Tennessee|
|Jim Daughters||Southeast Missouri State University||Cape Girardeau||Missouri|
|Marci DeAmbrose||Lincoln Southwest High School||Lincoln||Nebraska|
|Jackie Deen||Pottsboro High School||Pottsboro||Texas|
|Matthew Denman||Classen School of Advanced Studies||Oklahoma City||Oklahoma|
|Ryan Diefenderfer||Paradise Valley High School||Phoenix||Arizona|
|Jennifer DiVasto||Pennridge High School||Perkasie||Pennsylvania|
|Antoine Dolberry||P.S. 103x Hector Fontanez||Bronx||New York|
|George Dragoo||Stevens High School||Rapid City||South Dakota|
|Marisa Drake||Patuxent High School||Lusby||Maryland|
|Kathleen Dudley||Andrew Cooke Magnet School||Waukegan||Illinois|
|Jonathan Eising||James Hubert Blake High School||Silver Spring||Maryland|
|Jonathan Eldridge||Weston High School||Weston||Massachusetts|
|Carol Evans||Gwynedd Mercy University||Gwynedd Valley||Pennsylvania|
|Anthony Ferreira||Suffield High||West Suffield||Connecticut|
|Tamara Frazier||North Valleys High School||Reno||Nevada|
|J.D. Frizzell||Briarcrest Christian School||Eads||Tennessee|
|Chesteron Frye||St. Helena College & Career Academy||Greensburg||Louisiana|
|Nicholas Garofalo||Chattahoochee High School||Johns Creek||Georgia|
|Matt Gerry||Salina South Middle School||Salina||Kansas|
|Anna Girling||Sebastopol Attendance Center||Sebastopol||Mississippi|
|Vivian Gonzalez||Miami Arts Studio 6-12 @ Zelda Glazer||Miami||Florida|
|Johnathan Gore||Sandy Run K8 School||Swansea||South Carolina|
|Serena Gorham||Weare Middle School||Weare||New Hampshire|
|Kylie Griffin||Dozier Elementary||Erath||Louisiana|
|Jess Gronberg||Hawkes Bluff Elementary||Davie||Florida|
|Alan Guckian||Manor High School||Manor||Texas|
|Nathaniel Gunter||Greer High School||Greer||South Carolina|
|Amy Hannequin||Bethel Middle School||Bethel||Connecticut|
|Crystal Harding||Ypsilanti Community High School||Ypsilanti||Michigan|
|Diana Harrigan||Bloom High School||Chicago Heights||Illinois|
|Toye Harris||Miami High School||Miami||Oklahoma|
|Chris Hayslette||Bridgeport Middle School||Bridgeport||West Virginia|
|Colette Hebert||Ella Fitzgerald Academy||Yonkers||New York|
|Martha Heise||Seventh Street Elementary School||Oil City||Pennsylvania|
|Jonathan Helmick||Slippery Rock University||Slippery Rock||Pennsylvania|
|Corey Hermens||Grant County High School||Dry Ridge||Kentucky|
|Joel Hill||Velma Jackson High School and Shirley D. Simmons Middle School||Camden||Mississippi|
|Autumn Danielle Hodges||Clarksville- Kraus Middle School||Clarksville||Arkansas|
|Elaine Holmes||Comsewogue High School||Port Jefferson Station||New York|
|Gene Hundley||Swainsboro Middle School||Swainsboro||Georgia|
|Victor Iapalucci||Philip Barbour High School||Philippi||West Virginia|
|Devin James||Salem High School||Conyers||Georgia|
|Heidi Jaye||Daniel Webster Elementary School||New Rochelle||New York|
|Luke Johnson||Ingalls Elementary||Ingalls||Kansas|
|Jamie Jones||Manzano Day School||Albuquerque||New Mexico|
|Tyler Jones||Thompson Middle School||Alabaster||Alabama|
|Daniel Joosten||Edgerton High School||Edgerton||Wisconsin|
|Brett Keith||Northern Bedford County Middle/High School||Loysburg||Pennsylvania|
|Deonte Kennedy||Craigmont High School||Memphis||Tennessee|
|Matthew Kilby||Fort Dorchester HS||North Charleston||South Carolina|
|Lou Kitchner||Bedford Middle School||Westport||Connecticut|
|Michael Kiyoi||San Marcos High School||Santa Barbara||California|
|Kate Klotz||Monarch High School||Louisville||Colorado|
|Heidi Kohler||Clarence Middle School||Clarence||New York|
|Michael Lapomardo||Shrewsbury High School||Shrewsbury||Massachusetts|
|Michael Lee||Jericho Middle School||Jericho||New York|
|Morgan Lentino||Otter Creek Elementary||Elgin||Illinois|
|Joshua Light||Soddy-Daisy HS||Soddy-Daisy||Tennessee|
|Lisa Linde||Newton South High school||Newton||Massachusetts|
|Wes Lowe||The King's Academy||West Palm Beach||Florida|
|Cole Lundquist||Gloucester High School||Gloucester||Massachusetts|
|Robert Mamminga||St. Francis High School||Wheaton||Illinois|
|Peter Manzi||Carlsbad High School||Carlsbad||California|
|Samuel Maran||Lake High School||Millbury||Ohio|
|Jayson Martinez||Arts High School||Newark||New Jersey|
|Kevin McDonald||Wellesley High School||Wellesley||Massachusetts|
|Jill Melchitzky||Northwestern Middle School||Albion||Pennsylvania|
|Larrian Menifee||Ball High School||Galveston||Texas|
|Kimberly Mettert||East Noble Middle School||Kendallville||Indiana|
|Natalie Moore||Sullivan High School||Sullivan||Missouri|
|Mario Morales||Granbury High School||Granbury||Texas|
|Coty Raven Morris||Portland State University||Portland||Oregon|
|Brian Nabors||Shelby High School||Shelby||Ohio|
|Jenny Neff||The University of the Arts||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania|
|Cassandra Nelson||Mountaineer Middle||Morgantown||West Virginia|
|Trevor Nicholas||Senn Arts at Nicholas Senn High School||Chicago||Illinois|
|Adam Nobile||Big Spring High School||Newville||Pennsylvania|
|Sam Noyce||Thomas Jefferson Jr. High School||Kearns||Utah|
|Tim O'Donnell||Ephrata High School||Ephrata||Washington|
|John Panella||Cottondale High School||Cottondale||Florida|
|James Patterson||Kingstree High School||Kingstree||South Carolina|
|Shakia Paylor||City Neighbors High School||Baltimore||Maryland|
|Fernando Penaloza||Savanna High School||Anaheim||California|
|Kathy Perconti||Wayne Central High School||Ontario Center||New York|
|Jordan Peters||Dr. E Alma Flagg School||Newark||New Jersey|
|Catherine Plichta||Theatre Arts Production Company School||Bronx||New York|
|Felix Ponce||Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School||Chicago||Illinois|
|David Pope||Baldwin Wallace University||Berea||Ohio|
|Ær Queen||Braddock Elementary School||Annandale||Virginia|
|Brian Querry||Charles A. Huston Middle School||Lower Burrell||Pennsylvania|
|Rebecca Raber||University of Mary||Bismarck||North Dakota|
|Marc Ratner||Mineola High School||Garden City Park||New York|
|Lance Rauh||Patriot Oaks Academy||St Johns||Florida|
|Hoza Redditt||MSA East Academy||St. Gabriel||Louisiana|
|Heather Rentz||St. Mark Westpark||Cleveland||Ohio|
|Aaron Rex||Mason Middle School||Mason||Ohio|
|Angela Rex||Riverside Middle School||Greer||South Carolina|
|Chris Richard||Rogers Heritage High School||Rogers||Arkansas|
|Sarah Riechers||Thurgood Marshall Elementary School||Manassas||Virginia|
|Stephanie Robertson||Ponchatoula High School||Ponchatoula||Louisiana|
|Bethany Robinson||Noblesville High School||Noblesville||Indiana|
|Keith Robinson||Jefferson Avenue Elementary||Seguin||Texas|
|Alberto Rodriguez||Mount Vernon High School||Alexandria||Virginia|
|Chad Rose||Sheridan High School||Sheridan||Wyoming|
|Stewart Rosen||Walter Reed Middle School||North Hollywood||California|
|Shawn Royer||Marian University||Indianapolis||Indiana|
|Dayshawn Russell||North Iberville Elementary||Rosedale||Louisiana|
|Hannah Ryan||University of Virginia's College at Wise||Wise||Virginia|
|Kyle Ryan||Turkey Hill School||Orange||Connecticut|
|Ashley Sands||Kennedy Secondary School||Fergus Falls||Minnesota|
|Mark Santos||Santa Ana High School||Santa Ana||California|
|Danni Schmitt||Roland Park Elementary/Middle School||Baltimore||Maryland|
|Kevin Schoenbach||Oswego High School||Oswego||Illinois|
|Eric Schultz||Coastal Carolina University||Conway||South Carolina|
|Jessica Schwartz||Denham Springs High School||Denham Springs||Louisiana|
|Josh Settlemyre||R.J. Reynolds High School||Winston-Salem||North Carolina|
|Jason Shiuan||Saratoga High School||Saratoga||California|
|Katie Silcott||Olentangy Shanahan Middle School||Lewis Center||Ohio|
|Kerra Simmons||Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts||Fort Worth||Texas|
|Joani Slawson||Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy||Melbourne||Florida|
|Timothy Patrick Sloan Sr.||Albright Middle School||Houston||Texas|
|Jessie Smith||Yes Prep Public Schools||Houston||Texas|
|Cathryn Smith||Coleman High School||Coleman||Texas|
|Patrick Smith||Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School||New Haven||Connecticut|
|Tony Spano||Culver City High School||Culver City||California|
|Wes Sparkes||Eagleview Middle School||Colorado Springs||Colorado|
|Julian Spires||Meade Middle School||Fort Meade||Maryland|
|Shannon Stem||University Academy||Panama City||Florida|
|Harold Stephan||Stuyvesant High School||New York||New York|
|Cassandra Sulbaran||Braintree High School||Braintree||Massachusetts|
|Lynn Sweet||Mount Anthony Union High School||Bennington||Vermont|
|Agnes Tech||Indian Prairie Elementary School||Crystal Lake||Illinois|
|Chris Toomey||Mineola High School||Garden City Park||New York|
|Tom Torrento||Grosse Pointe North High School||Grosse Pointe Woods||Michigan|
|Jessica Torres||Elmont Memorial Jr. Sr. High School||Elmont||New York|
|Michelle Trinidad||Sacred Heart School||Bronx||New York|
|Alice Tsui||New Bridges Elementary||Brooklyn||New York|
|Jordan Tupper||Episcopal School of Baton Rouge||Baton Rouge||Louisiana|
|Martin Urbach||Harvest Collegiate High School||New York City||New York|
|Johny Vargas||Pueblo High School||Tucson||Arizona|
|Amy Villanova||Canyon Crest Academy||San Diego||California|
|Valerie Vinnard||Webster Elementary||Long Beach||California|
|Kenneth Walker||Ralls High School||Ralls||Texas|
|Kathy Wallace||Willard Elementary||Winchester||Indiana|
|Jennifer Walter||University of North Carolina at Greensboro||Greensboro||North Carolina|
|John Ware||Stovall Middle School||Houston||Texas|
|Brandon Weeks||North Polk High School||Alleman||Iowa|
|Lisa Werner||St. Bruno Parish School||Dousman||Wisconsin|
|Scott Weyman||Solanco High School||Quarryville||Pennsylvania|
|Elizabeth White||Holcomb RIII||Holcomb||Missouri|
|Tyler Wigglesworth||West Covina High School||West Covina||California|
|Derrick Williams||Vista Heights Middle School||Moreno Valley||California|
|Paula Williams||The Ron Clark Academy||Atlanta||Georgia|
|Sandi Wilson||Franklin School of Innovation||Asheville||North Carolina|
|Matthew Wiltshire||Lewiston High School||Lewiston||Maine|
|Damion Womack||The Montgomery Academy||Montgomery||Alabama|
|Tammy Yi||Chapman University||Orange||California|
|Nicholas Young||Altus High School||Altus||Oklahoma|
|Jason Younts||Samuel V. Champion High School||Boerne||Texas|
|DeAnna Zecchin||Indian River High School||Dagsboro||Delaware|
2024 MUSIC EDUCATOR AWARD LEGACY APPLICANTS
|Phil Aguglia||Kenmore East High School||Tonawanda||New York|
|Heather Akers||Central Middle School||Dover||Delaware|
|Eric Allen||Western Middle School for the Arts||Louisville||Kentucky|
|Calandria Allen||Zachary Community Schools||Zachary||Louisiana|
|Abigail Alwin||Clague Middle School||Ann Arbor Public Schools||Michigan|
|David Amos||Heritage Middle School||Painesville||Ohio|
|Luke Aumann||Appleton North High School||Appleton||Wisconsin|
|Elizabeth Baker||Ilima Intermediate School||Ewa Beach||Hawaiʻi|
|Andre Barnes||Science Park High School||Newark||New Jersey|
|Conesha Barron||Lanier High School||Jackson||Mississippi|
|Lyndra Bastian||Creekside Middle School and Woodstock High School||Woodstock||Illinois|
|William Bennett||Cane Bay High School||Summerville||South Carolina|
|Heather Bice||Ridgeview High School||Orange Park||Florida|
|Charlie Bradberry||Iowa Park High School||Iowa Park||Texas|
|Justin Britt||Kingston Public Schools||Kingston||Oklahoma|
|Shantavia Burchette||East Side High School||Newark||New Jersey|
|John Burn||Homestead High School||Cupertino||California|
|Alexander Busby||Oviedo High School||Oviedo||Florida|
|Aaron Bush||Foxborough High School||Foxborough||Massachusetts|
|Meg Byrne||Pleasant Valley High School||Bettendorf||Iowa|
|Philip Carter||O'Fallon Township High School||O'Fallon||Illinois|
|Elizabeth Carter||Snowden School||Memphis||Tennessee|
|Francis Cathlina||University of Memphis||Memphis||Tennessee|
|Tiffany Chiang||Mark Twain I.S. 239||Brooklyn||New York|
|Ernesta Chicklowski||Roosevelt Elementary||Tampa||Florida|
|Michael Coelho||Ipswich Middle School and Ipswich High School||Ipswich||Massachusetts|
|Christine Cumberledge||Central Junior High School||Euless||Texas|
|Heather Dipasquale||Todd County Middle School||Elkton||Kentucky|
|Jack A. Eaddy, Jr.||Western Carolina University||Cullowhee||North Carolina|
|Dominique Eade||New England Conservatory of Music||Boston||Massachusetts|
|Cuauhtemoc Escobedo||Eckstein Middle School||Seattle||Washington|
|Jasmine Faulkner||Polaris Expeditionary Learning School||Fort Collins||Colorado|
|Daniel James Felton||Tartan High School||Oakdale||Minnesota|
|Nicholas Fernandez||Bentonville Schools||Bentonville||Arkansas|
|Cathryn Fowler||Health Careers High School||San Antonio||Texas|
|Marisa Frank||Explore! Community School||Nashville||Tennessee|
|Jasmine Fripp||KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School||Nashville||Tennessee|
|Jacob Garcia||Tennyson Middle School||Waco||Texas|
|Jorge L. Garcia||Elias Herrera Middle School||Laredo||Texas|
|Tina Gibson||Jefferson County Traditional Middle School||Louisville||Kentucky|
|Alex Gittelman||Haverford Middle School||Havertown||Pennsylvania|
|Guillermo Gonzalez||James A. Garfield High School||Los Angeles||California|
|Mansa Gory||Denzel Washington School of the Arts||Mount Vernon||New York|
|Deanna Grandstaff||Cecil Intermediate School||McDonald||Pennsylvania|
|Amanda Hanzlik||E.O. Smith High School||Storrs||Connecticut|
|Marvin Haywood||John Ehret High School||Marrero||Louisiana|
|Kristin Howell||Syosset High School||Syosset||New York|
|Emmanuel Hudson||Booker T. Washington High School||Shreveport||Louisiana|
|Karla Hulne||Blair-Taylor Middle/High School||Blair||Wisconsin|
|Mia Ibrahim||Health Opportunities High School||Bronx||New York|
|Luis Ingels||Candor Elementary School||Candor||New York|
|Justin Janer||Pinewood School Middle Campus||Los Altos||California|
|Daryl Jessen||Dakota Valley School||North Sioux City||South Dakota|
|De'Evin Johnson||Duncanville High School||Duncanville||Texas|
|Amir Jones||Harvey High School||Painesville||Ohio|
|Allison Kline||Blue Mountain Area School||Orwigsburg||Pennsylvania|
|Kenneth Kosterman||Rockwall-Heath High School||Heath||Texas|
|Joshua Krohn||Brent Elementary School||Washington||District of Columbia|
|Sarah Labovitz||Arkansas State University||Jonesboro||Arkansas|
|Heather Leppard||Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA)||Los Angeles||California|
|Hope Lewis||Charles O. Dickerson HS||Trumansburg||New York|
|Meredith Lord||Burncoat High School||Worcester||Massachusetts|
|Brendon Lucas||Nyack High School||Nyack||New York|
|Christian Lucas||Mariners Christian School||Costa Mesa||California|
|Alison McCarrey||Romig Middle School||Anchorage||Alaska|
|Angie McDaniel||Forest Creek Elementary||Round Rock||Texas|
|Ashleigh McDaniel Spatz||Burgess Peterson Academy||Atlanta||Georgia|
|Matthew McKagan||Lindero Canyon Middle School||Agoura Hills||California|
|Brian McMath||Northwest Guilford High School||Greensboro||North Carolina|
|Phillip McMullen||Silver Creek Central Schools||Silver Creek||New York|
|Tracy Meldrum||Verrado High School||Buckeye||Arizona|
|Xochilt Melendez Munguia||Gainesville Middle School for the Arts and Sciences||Gainesville||Virginia|
|Kris Milby||Greenup County High School||Greenup||Kentucky|
|Dana Monteiro||Frederick Douglass Academy||New York||New York|
|Shelby Montgomery||George Jenkins High School||Lakeland||Florida|
|David Moore||Inspire Charter Academy||Baton Rouge||Louisiana|
|Ryan Moseley||Appoquinimink High School||Middletown||Delaware|
|David Moss||West Hopkins School||Nebo||Kentucky|
|Deborah Muhlenbruck-Fleischer||Gunderson Middle School||Las Vegas||Nevada|
|Vicki Nichols||Grandview Elementary||Grandview||Texas|
|Jeremy Overbeck||Century High School||Bismarck||North Dakota|
|John Pachence||Penn State Abington||Abington||Pennsylvania|
|Jennifer Page||Niles North High School||Skokie||Illinois|
|Matthew Pitts||Robert JC Rice Elementary School||Gilbert||Arizona|
|Courtney Powers||Muhammad Ali School 23||Passaic||New Jersey|
|Natalie Pratt||Brentwood High School||Brentwood||Tennessee|
|William Rank||Oak Prairie Junior High School||Lockport||Illinois|
|Brett Rankin||Wilde Lake High School||Columbia||Maryland|
|Annie Ray||Annandale High School||Annandale||Virginia|
|Tracy Resseguie||Staley High School||Kansas City||Missouri|
|Giovanni Santos||La Sierra University||Riverside||California|
|Ruth Schwartz||Chugiak High School and Mirror Lake Middle School||Chugiak||Alaska|
|Laura Shapovalov||Walden III Middle and High School||Racine||Wisconsin|
|James Sheffer||Medford Memorial Middle School and Haines Sixth Grade Center||Medford||New Jersey|
|Matthew Shephard||Meridian Early College High School||Sanford||Michigan|
|Dylan Sims||York Middle School||York||South Carolina|
|Thomas Slater||Chestnut Oaks Middle School||Sumter||South Carolina|
|Michele Slone||Urbana Elementary and Jr. High School||Urbana||Ohio|
|Tony Small||St. Vincent Pallotti Arts Academy||Laurel||Maryland|
|Andrew Smith||Charlotte Central School||Charlotte||Vermont|
|Wayne Splettstoeszer||Torrington High School||Torrington||Connecticut|
|Elizabeth Steege||Cass High School||Racine||Wisconsin|
|Lawrence Stoffel||California State University, Northridge||Los Angeles||California|
|Tyler Swick||Robert and Sandy Ellis Elementary||Henderson||Nevada|
|Elizabeth Taylor||La Crosse Elementary School||La Crosse||Virginia|
|Cami Tedoldi||Foxborough High School||Foxborough||Massachusetts|
|Kylie Teston||Leonardtown High School||Leonardtown||Maryland|
|Jonathan Todd||Palisades High School||Charlotte||North Carolina|
|Matthew Trevino||Roan Forest Elementary||San Antonio||Texas|
|Alexis True||Thomas Downey High School||Modesto||California|
|Gregory Urban||Dunedin Highland Middle School||Dunedin||Florida|
|Jon Usher||Hidden Springs Elementary||Moreno Valley||California|
|Michael Vasquez||Charles L. Kuentz Jr. Elementary||Helotes||Texas|
|Aaron Vogel||Mountain Ridge High School||Glendale||Arizona|
|Bryen Warfield||Homestead High School||Fort Wayne||Indiana|
|Sarah Wehmeier Aparicio||Waukesha South High School||Waukesha||Wisconsin|
|Christopher White||Hickory Ridge High School||Harrisburg||North Carolina|
|Tammy White||Kiser Middle School||Greensboro||North Carolina|
|Tyron Williams||New Visions Charter High School for the Humanities IV||Far Rockaway||New York|
|Krista Williams||Floretta P. Carson Visual and Performing Arts Academy||Mobile||Alabama|
|Kelly Winovich||Northgate Middle/Senior High School||Pittsburgh||Pennsylvania|
|Hayley Winslow||Snow Canyon Middle School||Saint George||Utah|
Working For Students: How Music Industry Professionals Find Fulfillment In Education
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Meet Tobias Jesso Jr., The First-Ever GRAMMY Winner For Songwriter Of The Year
"I felt the weight of what it meant," the man behind the curtain of massive songs by Adele, Harry Styles, Marcus Mumford and more says about his win in the brand-new GRAMMY category.
Tobias Jesso Jr. wanted to know how to write a hit song, so he read How to Write a Hit Song. Not that he needed to figure out how to break into the mainstream: he had already written a tune with Sia and Adele that cracked the Billboard Hot 100. But in an effort to take his young career seriously — that of writing behind the curtain for the stars — he cracked open the book at a café.
Just then, a voice: "What the hell are you doing?" He glanced up. It was Sia.
"She was like, 'Why are you reading that?' and I was like, 'I honestly don't know,'" Jesso remembers with a laugh. "I think I just put the book away from that point on and was like, OK, I don't need the books. And I just felt like there's been a different one of those lessons at every step of the way where I'm just like, Man, I think this is what I got to do, and then I just figure it out."
Since that exchange, Jesso has written with a litany of contemporary stars: John Legend, Shawn Mendes, Pink, Haim, Harry Styles — the list goes on. (As per the latter, he co-wrote "Boyfriends" on Harry's House, which was crowned Album Of The Year at the 2023 GRAMMYs.)
And at said ceremony, he received a historic honor — the first-ever golden gramophone for Songwriter Of The Year. As Evan Bogart, Chair of the Songwriters & Composers Wing, recently toldput it to GRAMMY.com: "We're looking for which songwriters have demonstrated, first and foremost, that they're considered a songwriter first by the music community. We want to recognize the professional, hardworking songwriters who do this for a living."
Read More: Why The New Songwriter Of The Year GRAMMY Category Matters For The Music Industry And Creator Community
Clearly, Jesso fits the mold, and possesses technical chops worthy of How to Write a Hit Song. But his realization — that he can literally throw out the rulebook — speaks volumes as to his flexible, collaborator-first and fun-first process.
"I get into a room and I really want to enjoy the people, and the songs will come if we're all just being honest," he tells GRAMMY.com. "If you take a few days or weeks to get to know somebody, all of a sudden, your songs are deeper."
And while working his interpersonal and collaborative magic, he keeps his ears and imagination open — a momentary trifle can become the heart of a song. It happened with Cautious Clay's "Whoa," which came from messing with some, well, whoas.
"It was a little silly at first," says Jesso,the songwriter whose first output was "inappropriate" high-school joke songs. "But now it wasn't silly anymore."
GRAMMY.com sat down with Jesso about his creative beginnings, the experience of working alongside pop titans, and how his inaugural GRAMMY win for Songwriter Of The Year happened during the happiest, most creatively fruitful period of his burgeoning career.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
How did it feel to take home the golden gramophone — the first ever in this category?
It felt tremendous. It felt amazing. It's such an honor to have received it, and I felt the weight of what it meant. I get really stage frightened, and so I kept telling myself there's no way I was going to win, just so I wouldn't be nervous or anything like that.
But weirdly, when I did win, I was very not nervous. I don't know how to put it, but it was the opposite of what I thought I would feel. I don't know if I've never been awarded something so prestigious. My elementary school did a piece on me after I won the GRAMMY, and it was sort of largely a "We didn't see any talent at all" kind of thing.
So, I'd say "tremendous" would be probably the one word I would feel most aptly describes it. I'm just really, really proud of the category and its creation, and super lucky to have been a part of it at all. Especially in the year that it comes out. I was baffled that I was nominated.
I had already felt like that rush of whoa, this amazing thing happened when I was nominated. And then winning was the next level of completely beyond what I could have ever expected.
How does the win help chart the next stage of your career?
As a songwriter, your job is to serve the artist. Your job is to serve the artist — the person who the song's for. And I think because of that, most songwriters have a very serve mentality, which generally doesn't work out well on the business side of things for you.
I think if you took all the producers in the world and took all the songwriters in the world and tried to look at which ones are more business savvy, I'd say nine times out of 10, it's probably the producers.
I think a lot of people — artists or songwriters among them — have imposter syndrome, feeling like they don't really know whether they belong there or they're just lucky or they have what it takes for the next one, even. If they know they had a good run or whatever, they're always going back to the well and praying that there's something in there.
And I think this GRAMMY is almost like having a symbol of a really good run — a really good, fertile time of creativity or something. TI think the way I see it is sort of a symbol of this period of time where I had a lot of ideas, and worked really hard, and managed to somehow win this thing, which is, for me, is huge. It means a lot.
For the songwriting community to have the award to look forward to, to have this symbol of Hey, you can be creative as a songwriter and just be a songwriter who doesn't sing and doesn't produce, and [the fact] you can get this prestigious symbol of your gifts that the world will now recognize — I think that's a wonderful thing for songwriters to have.
Take me back to the beginning of your career writing songs, either for yourself or others. The first time you really embraced this magical act of creation.
I was such a lazy songwriter for so many years because I always loved writing songs, writing songs with my friends in high school and stuff like that. But I never really wanted to play an instrument, and I never really wanted to sing them myself.
I think probably back in high school, in 1998 or '99, it was because they were joke songs. So I probably didn't want to sing them because they were inappropriate or something. I always wanted to. The beginning for me was definitely a sort of moment of hearing Tracy Chapman when I was like, Oh, this is what I'm going to do. Not be Tracy Chapman, but write songs.
From there I was really lazy and I just tried to do as little as possible, but I had this sort of confidence that I was somehow good at it. So, I would sometimes have my friends who played guitar or my friends who played piano, or whoever was around, do the music part for me, and I could just kind of pipe in and direct where I felt like my skillset was.
I started writing on piano for the first time when I was 27. That was a big moment for me where I was. I feel like I finally figured it out. It took me a long time: I still don't know how to play the piano, but I know I'm going to figure this out now.
I made a lot of mistakes along the way with bands and with albums or whatever. Things that just didn't exactly go the way [I planned them]; my gut was eventually telling me it just wasn't right. And then, when I started playing piano, it just finally all felt right, and I didn't think too much about it. I just sort of started doing it.
During that time, I unfortunately had to sing to get my album out, which was sort of a means to an end. But as soon as I was able to, I ducked away from that and started writing. Then I just had a new job. I was like I got promoted or something.
As you honed your ability and developed your craft, how did you follow that chain of connections to be able to write for who you've written for?
It's funny because Adele was the first person I worked with — [but] not in a professional way where managers and stuff like that are involved, and it's not just a friend of mine from high school or something. She was sort of my blueprint for how those things went.
I couldn't have gotten any luckier than with Adele, because her blueprint for how to do a writing session is the most pure in the game. There's nothing to hide behind. There's no producer in the room. She came to my friend's grandparents' where there are no mics; there's no studio equipment at all. There's a piano. And she just goes, "Great, let's write a song."
I don't know that that even exists much anymore. There's not even a microphone to capture what's going on, let alone one of the biggest players in the entire world doing it — just showing up, being like, "Let's write a song." And there's nothing to record her. I thought that was really cool. I'm like, "That's how I write songs. I just sit in front of a piano and just do what I think I like." And she was like, "And me too."
So, that's how we got along real great off the bat. And then from there, I would say it was just the most epic amount of failures and trial and error to figure out what the hell I was doing in every different session. I mean, I was treading water at times, and I felt like I was smoking crack sometimes, because I was so creative in a certain scenario I didn't expect to be creative in or something like that.
I think it's just this kind of learning process. There are a lot of people who are typically geared towards one style of writing. You're the country guy or you're the pop guy, or you're the ballad guy. And I could see that I was getting typecast. I was starting to get typecast, especially early on in my career because ballads, that's just the tempo that's naturally within me. It's sort of my soul tempo to just slow things down. I can write much easier in that tempo. I'll always sort of naturally progress there.
But I wanted to push the limits of that, and I wanted to figure out a way to get out of that typecast. And so I tried as quickly as I could to pick people who would be like, "Please don't play a ballad."
And when I started doing that, it was, again, trial and error. I think Niall [Horan of One Direction] was the first person I worked with who was in the pop world, and he was very much an acoustic singer. So I think that I was going into that session thinking I wanted to do upbeat pop. So I don't know — you get in the door and then you just try to acclimate yourself to the environment and help out as much as you can.
I think that's the best way to put it, because you never know what you're going to be doing. You never know what the artist is going to want from you or not want from you. A lot of the job is just figuring all that stuff out and then trying to just have fun while you're doing it. I think it's just that good energy, good attitude, and good people tend to sort of gravitate together.
How would you characterize the state of your artistic journey at this point?
I would say it feels the richest, in the sense that I'm the happiest I've been working.
I've found my rhythm — my perfect work-life balance kind of thing — so I can spend time with my son. And I think because of all of the time I've spent writing songs and how many songs come out, which is not a lot compared to how much you spend writing, you kind of learn that the relationships you make in the room are really the things that you really take out of it. It can be a lot more than, "I'm just a songwriter here to serve this artist" or whatever.
Lately, probably because of all the time I've spent doing it, I get into a room and I really want to enjoy the people. And the songs will come if we're all just being honest. We all know why we're here. We don't need that pressure in the room, and we don't need the A&R sitting in the room. We can get a song, but let's just be honest and really enjoy each other's company for a while.
And I think once that starts happening, it's way, way more fruitful in the long run. Because if you take a few days or weeks to get to know somebody, all of a sudden, your songs are deeper.
As a songwriter, your job is to point out metaphors or parallels — and things that could spark some interest in an artist's mind. And the better you get to know somebody, the more amazing the writing process can be.
That's been happening a lot in my recent sessions with Dua [Lipa] and Harry, another just amazing person. He is a great guy, but we haven't done that much writing together, but we know each other mostly through Kid Harpoon — Tom [Hull], who's the best.
I'm getting to know the people, and that's the most important part for me — I'm working with the people I want to work with. That's my journey now. I'll always work with new people, but I don't need to work with people I don't really vibe with or listen to. That's not really my interest anymore, especially if I'm in it for the right reasons. I'd say it's just more intentional, and I'm being more honest.
When you walk into a room to write with somebody, what are the first steps, or operating principles?
My operating principle is: Do I want to get to know this person, and do they want to get to know me at all, or do they just want to write a song and not want to open up?
If it's somebody who seems very open to talk, that's usually a good sign. And if not, then you just do what they want. You start writing a song and that's fine too. Sometimes there's great, catchy stuff. It's not always the deepest stuff.
Maybe they're the ones writing the lyrics, so maybe it is. But my operating principle is kind of, if I'm having a good time and everyone's having a good time, we're doing something good. We're not writing a bad song. We're just not. If we were writing a bad song in this room of professionals, we wouldn't be having a good time.
And when you're having a good time, good ideas do come. Even if they are silly at first and they're more openly accepted, and everything in the room is flowing better when those channels of enjoyment are sort of open, and everyone's laughing and having fun and dancing and being silly, that's how you get creative.
I don't know of many songwriters who are just dead serious. I've maybe met a couple. So I think my operating principle is to have a good time. That's going to be the funnest day, no matter what. It's probably going to be a better song for it if you're having fun and you like the people and they like you, and everything's going well.
Why is it crucial that the Recording Academy honor not only public-facing creators, but those behind the curtain?
I won't speak for myself as much as just the amazing people who I've worked with. You can't understand what kind of work has to go into a song. It's so funny, because it's a three-minute thing that sounds like most people can do it in an hour or something, but some of these things take months of work to get right.
I think it's really important to acknowledge everyone involved in each of the processes, because to give credit to just producers and artists, and then it's like, "Yeah, but the storytellers aren't even in the room," is like the congratulating a director and an actor, and then being like, the writer is s—. It's like, what? The movie wouldn't exist without them!
That just wouldn't happen. So, it feels like the right thing. I'm a bit overwhelmed and still a bit in disbelief, but it's snowing in LA, so miracles do happen.
What would you tell a young songwriter who wants to roll up their sleeves and do this?
I would say just be a good person and keep learning. Everyone's not perfect at the start. But if I had to give one piece of advice that was super, super important to me, is the good guys are winning in the end sometimes.
Like I said, the friendships and the artists, you don't want to come in being a d—. And I don't mean that strictly for men. I just mean whoever's coming in, you want to be a nice person. I think there's a lot of good people, and there's a lot of bad people too. You find your crew — energy finds energy.
Meet Stephanie Economou, The First-Ever GRAMMY Winner For Best Score Soundtrack For Video Games And Other Interactive Media
Photo courtesy of the artist
Bobby McFerrin Honored With Recording Academy Special Merit Award
After racking up 10 GRAMMY Awards and worldwide acclaim, McFerrin said this when the National Endowment for the Arts inducted him into its 2020 Jazz Masters class: “My pursuit of music has always been about freedom and joy.”
Whenever Bobby McFerrin sings, freedom reigns. It twists and shouts; caresses and soothes; howls and coruscates.
After racking up 10 GRAMMY Awards and worldwide acclaim, McFerrin said this when the National Endowment for the Arts inducted him into its 2020 Jazz Masters class: “My pursuit of music has always been about freedom and joy.”
The son of two incredible singers, Sara Cooper (a former vocal professor at Fullerton College) and Robert McFerrin (an operatic baritone who was the first Black American man to sing at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera), McFerrin seemed destined to become a star. He sang in church choirs while growing up in Los Angeles. He studied music at California State University at Sacramento and Cerritos College in Norwalk, California. Afterward, he played piano and organ with the Ice Follies and in pop bands. And in 1980, he toured with the iconic jazz singer, Jon Hendricks.
McFerrin was 31 years old when he released his debut LP in 1982. But his artistry sounded fresh and fully developed. He contorted his four-octave voice in an array of colors, textures and improvisational shapes, liberating the role of a jazz singer.
McFerrin’s reputation as an ingenious and fearless virtuoso grew. His 1984 sophomore LP, The Voice, marked the first time a jazz singer recorded an entire album without any accompaniment or overdubbing. In addition to showcasing marvelous interpretations of songs by James Brown and Billy Strayhorn, it also revealed McFerrin to be an engaging composer through such infectious songs as “The Jump,” and “I’m My Own Walkman.”
A year later, his guest appearance on “Another Night In Tunisia” from the Manhattan Transfer’s LP, Vocalese, earned McFerrin his first two GRAMMY Awards. The following year, he won a GRAMMY for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male for his stunning rendition of “Round Midnight,” featuring pianist Herbie Hancock from the movie soundtrack, Round Midnight. His collaboration with Hancock also garnered McFerrin another GRAMMY win in 1987 for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male for “What Is This Thing Called Love?” from the LP, The Other Side Of Round Midnight.
For all of McFerrin’s exhilarating virtuosity, he imbues it with vast emotional range, especially humor. He can infuse his improvisations with the madcap kinetic energy of a Tom and Jerry cartoon chase scene, then pull the amorous heartstrings with a tender ballad.
Of course, the lyrics that McFerrin became most famous for are from his sanguine 1988 hit, “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” which catapulted him into superstardom. The song won three
GRAMMY Awards — Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male.
That enormous success didn’t impede McFerrin’s flair for adventure. He brought a quixotic spark to his records and projects that broke the conventions of jazz singing. He collaborated with classical music heavyweights such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist W.A. Mathieu and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra; he has created elaborate vocal choirs such as 2010’s VOCAbuLarieS with composer Roger Treece; and delved deep into the Negro spiritual canon on his enthralling 2013 album, spirityoual.
Nearly 40 years after winning his first GRAMMY, McFerrin’s continued boundless musicality is a true embodiment of artistic freedom.
Here's What Happened At The Recording Academy's 2023 Special Merit Awards Ceremony Honoring Heart, Nirvana, Nile Rodgers, The Supremes & More
Photo courtesy of the artist
Meet Stephanie Economou, The First-Ever GRAMMY Winner For Best Score Soundtrack For Video Games And Other Interactive Media
In a victory for the video game music community, Stephanie Economou took home the first-ever GRAMMY in that brand-new category for her soundtrack to 'Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök.'
Stephanie Economou was so certain she wouldn't win a GRAMMY, that she sat near the back of the auditorium.
The video game soundtrack composer was nominated for the inaugural Best Score Soundtrack For Video Games And Other Interactive Media award for her score to "Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök" — a lavish expansion of the latest entry in Ubisoft's series of historically inspired action role-playing games.
"I was up against titans in the video game composing industry, so I was just happy to be nominated and happy to be there," Economou tells GRAMMY.com. But despite the heavy competition — Austin Wintory for "Aliens: Fireteam Elite," Bear McCreary for "Call of Duty Vanguard," other industry juggernauts — the golden gramophone was hers.
From rows and rows deep, Economou dashed to the stage feeling more than a little conflicted. "I was experiencing a lot of impostor syndrome," she says. "I'm still pretty new to this, and I was like, Did I earn this? Do I deserve this?"
It was Wintory, who Economou characterizes as "very, very, very well-known," who set her self-doubting mind at ease: "It's absurd to even question why you're here," he told her, from her recollection. "The music is great, and what you represent is something important."
The soundtrack to "Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök" isn't just high-quality; it's immersive, evocative and boundary-pushing. Taking cues from neofolk, Nordic folk and black metal, Economou employed a diverse palette of instruments — synthesizers, lap harp, viola da gamba, et al — to make the open-world RPG evermore captivating and transportive.
Economou opened up to GRAMMY.com about her creative journey through the worlds of film and TV, the manifold inspirations behind the "Dawn of Ragnarök" score, and her hope that this new GRAMMY Award will grant the video game music community the esteem it deserves.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
I imagine there's a degree of aristocracy in the video game scoring community, as there is in many subcultures. If so, was there a feeling upon receiving this GRAMMY that it's giving way a tad?
Yeah, I think there was. Truly, whoever won this category, it was going to be a huge celebration, because it's such a win to even have the validation from the Recording Academy to have video games as their own thing. So, regardless of who won, it was always going to be somebody who I think has earned a level of respect in the industry.
But I do think there is something to be said potentially for the fact that: yes, I am younger, and I am slightly newer to games. Maybe that balance is shifting where people are connecting with creators who are coming at this with a different lens and have something slightly different to say.
I just think that as a composer, I represent something different from what much of this industry can be — which is not better or worse, it’s just another perspective. And sometimes people can be attracted to what that diversity can bring.
Tell me about your early inspirations and what drew you to this medium.
I grew up playing violin and piano, and I pursued in college specifically concert music. So, I didn't score my first short film until I was in college at New England Conservatory, which is a music-only school.
There was just something there that clicked with me. I loved the collaborative process, working with a filmmaker who was really challenging me to try things out of my comfort zone. I grew up loving a lot of music. I grew up loving orchestral music because it's what I was playing in school. Most of all, I grew up loving classic rock, and just the rock genre — punk, metal, things like that. So, I have a lot of different, very, very eclectic influences, which I think is what made it so exciting to write music that felt genuine to me.
But I thought that film music and scoring for media in particular offered this really rare opportunity to potentially harness all of those influences that I loved from growing up — just putting them in a blender and seeing what comes out.
Depending on the project you’re working on, too — you could be working on a period drama where you have to study baroque music, or you could be working on an Assassin’s Creed game and someone says they want to do a black metal score. That’s pretty much exactly what happened. So, I love the challenge that’s built into this work.
Stephanie Economou. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Tell me how your career ramped up to "Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök." What games did you work on prior to this title?
I mainly just worked in film and TV. Video games are still a pretty new thing for me.
But when I moved out to LA to start working in the industry, I got pretty lucky and ended up working for a composer named Harry Gregson-Williams, who is very well-known and respected. He composed for Shrek and Chicken Run and The Equalizer and Mulan, and had a bunch of huge, really different films.
So, I cut my teeth with him for six years and was writing on his scores and just being a part of his team, and that's pretty much where I learned everything. I got my credits writing additional music on his projects.
And when I went out on my own, I was looking to get offered a Netflix TV series called "Jupiter's Legacy," which I think was a big catalyst for making an imprint with Netflix in particular, and with other people who really enjoyed that show.
From there, I've been doing lots of different work — documentary work, feature films, animations, a lot of different stuff. I instantly forget every single project I've ever done when anybody asks me this question, but there are lots of things that were propelled forward.
And then, Ubisoft called and said they were looking for a composer they hadn't worked with before — someone who didn't necessarily have game experience — and they asked someone to demo for this DLC [downloadable content] for "Assassin's Creed Valhalla" called "The Siege of Paris." That was my first intro to video game music.
So, I demoed for that, I got that job, and then the following expansion was "Dawn of Ragnarök," so they asked me if I could do that one.
What are some of the specific procedures involved in scoring a video game? What mental space do you need to occupy to write music for games as opposed to the other mediums you've worked in?
In film and TV, those stories are fixed. So, even though they might be editing throughout the time you're writing the music, they're still linear. Video games are nonlinear and interactive with the player, so the music is very alive. It's almost communicating with the player as they're going through the story.
When you're composing the music for something like that, you're kind of designing it as well. So, you need to have an awareness of: OK, even though this track is three minutes long, the player could be in this space for an hour.
Or they could happen upon a danger or tension area, and you need to design layers on top of a base layer that could be triggered at any moment, that can give them that rush or feeling of uneasiness. And then you could have a fight break out, and it's all sort of modular building blocks.
But the biggest challenge that comes with something like that where there are so many moving parts musically, is that you still need to make sure that it's not just the same thing looping over and over again.
The music needs to have shape and a theme, and it can have harmony and modulate, and each of the layers can play with the rudiments of tempo. You can play with double time and half time and triplets and subdivisions that can play into that intensity, but in a very carefully designed way.
So, there are a lot of levels of awareness that need to go into composing something that is interactive and nonlinear, which I think is a really fun challenge. But coming into games and being newer to it, there was a steeper learning curve.
I think that's the challenge with it — making a piece feel really musical and gripping, but being able to do all of those very specific technical things at the same time.
How would you characterize your personal stamp on whatever score you create?
I'm truly bad at recognizing what I think my signature is, because I think it's ever-evolving. But I do think that I try to bring an edge, or something a little bit risk-taking, into all of the music that I make.
I really don't like the idea of writing the same cue more than once, even though sometimes that's what we have to do for the job. I really like the idea that not one of my scores sounds like another one. That's not specific, but process-wise, I get excited by projects that can allow me to do something I haven't done before.
I feel like the space of video games is especially encouraging for taking those kinds of risks, and working with Ubisoft, that's definitely what they were doing. At every turn, they were like, Push it further, get more experimental, get less expected. And I love that. I love playing with the expectation of the listener and redefining what people consider to be game music.
Tell me more about how you incorporated the building blocks of black metal in the "Assassin's Creed Valhalla" score — grainy production, tremolo picking, a symphonic sweep.
The black-metal thing came as a suggestion from one of the game developers very, very early in the process. I love metal music, but I had never studied the black-metal subgenre in particular. So, I looked into that stuff.
My first protocol was finding musicians who were really well-versed in that. I found this band called Wilderun; Wayne Ingram is the lead guitarist. He was one of the biggest collaborators on this project, and he introduced me to Heilung and Wolves in the Throne Room and all these amazing black-metal and neo-folk bands.
"Assassin's Creed Valhalla" also has this Nordic folk influence, which is something I wanted to tie into "Dawn of Ragnarok." There's actually a lot of musical overlap, I would say, between Nordic folk and black-metal. Even if it's coming from a rustic, primitive way, it's very cinematic. You can have these symphonic sorts of influences with distorted guitars and really punchy drums and blast beats and growly vocals and stuff.
So, it all ends up tying together, but getting the right temperature for each of the stylistic influences was a challenge. So, dialing in that black metal and some of those performances from the soloist… it wasn't hard, but it was definitely something that I had to pay very close attention to [in order] to make sure that I was really nailing it.
It was super fun. I never thought I was going to be able to write a black-metal influenced score, but the best part of it was being able to collaborate with these musicians. It was just a really amazing, fruitful experience.
Tell me about your other collaborators on this soundtrack.
Ari Mason is another one of the soloists. She was a vocalist and played viola da gamba on the score too. She put off this really fresh Nordic folk, neofolk energy to the whole score, which was really amazing.
I got a tagelharpa, which was really, really difficult to play, but cool to just gather. I tend to collect instruments based on the project that I'm working on. So, I recorded on that and experimented with a lap harp, which was really fun, and then recorded with a bunch of different string instruments.
And then, we put some synths in there, because, as you probably know too, black metal and neofolk, it's very uniquely ambient and textural as well, So even though there can be these big black-metal moments, there's a lot of heavily curated ambience and textural stuff going on in there too.
That's the most fun stuff for me. That's something that I feel like lives in most of my music, regardless of the style.
Prior to your black-metal immersion, what are some other formative influences that made their way into your work?
So, I grew up listening to System of a Down, and Toxicity is probably still one of my favorite albums of all time. I listen to it [chuckles] a lot. I do feel like there were some times when it was tipping more into System of a Down, and Ubisoft was like, "I think we're departing a little too far from black metal!"
Pink Floyd is probably my favorite band of all time, and Animals is my favorite album. There's things in that music where I can look back at my own music and say, "Oh wow, there's something in there that does remind me a bit of Animals," or a bit of this, a bit of that. I used to listen to Blink-182 and stuff from my childhood that brings me a lot of joy still. And then newer stuff like Patrick Watson and Father John Misty.
I try to just listen to new music whenever I can — which, truth be told, I struggled with for a long time, because working in music and doing music all day, sometimes you just feel really inundated and don't want to listen to anything else.
So, I sort of struggled with that for a while. But now, every morning, I come into the studio and go on YouTube and just listen to different things that I have never heard of before, and I think that's a really inspiring way to start the day.
Stephanie Economou. Photo: Claus Morgenstern
With this GRAMMY in hand, where do you want to creatively venture next?
I would just love to keep working with these amazing creators in the video game space and keep doing more film and TV projects. I always strive to work with storytellers who are saying something different and being innovative, and people who are going to want music that opens a different dimension for the viewer and the audience.
I do feel like games are the most direct way into that world for listeners. I think it's all art, really.
Can you talk about the subculture of video game scorers, positive or negative? What would you do to change it if you could?
I think we've all read about how some of these video game companies can be very toxic working environments, and in particular for women. I have to say that my experience as a woman composer in the video game music space is that I have only been supported by these game companies, and it's been a really lovely, encouraging space to make music. Then, I would say the video game composing community is really great too.
I really appreciate this community of composers. We're all just putting our heads down and doing the work. But ultimately, I think that the amount of diverse voices in video games is a bigger population as compared to film and TV. I think game companies are more apt to hire women composers, and video game composers are super-accepting and a generally diverse group of people.
I'm really lucky to be here, and I've only felt support from my fellow artists in this world. So, I would say all good stuff, but maybe ask me in 10 years and I'll have some more stories.
With the initiation of this GRAMMY category, do you feel like the video game music world might get more of the respect that it deserves?
I'd f—ing hope so, man. It's so crazy that it did take this long to recognize video game music on its own.
There are some people I talk to who aren't really even gamers or don't really understand how exciting the video game medium is. They're like, "Oh, wow, it's really a sign of the times that video game music is being recognized." It's like, we've been here for decades.
I think it's well overdue, especially because gamers really, really listen to this music. I grew up gaming and I still do now, and there's something about hearing those scores that I grew up with from these games; it elicits this very visceral memory. It sets you in a place and time and it's a very deep-seated thing.
I love film soundtracks too, but I don't get that same overwhelming thrill when I listen to the music for a film soundtrack as I do for a game soundtrack. If I hear the theme for "Halo," it's like I'm overcome, and I think there's something to be said for that.
I think people who live in these narratives in video games really want to listen to the music again and re-experience the excitement of that story just by listening to the soundtrack alone. It defines this little slice of time that they enjoyed this game and fought through it. It's just a really special experience.
So, I think it's well-timed that game music is recognized, because it really does offer this emotionally connecting experience for the audience.
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