meta-script5 Reflections On George Wein: How It Felt To Be Around The Architect Of The Modern Music Festival |
George Wein

George Wein

Photo: Clayton Call/Redferns via Getty Images


5 Reflections On George Wein: How It Felt To Be Around The Architect Of The Modern Music Festival

George Wein wasn’t just at the ground floor of Newport Jazz Fest, Newport Folk Fest and New Orleans Jazz Fest. He arguably crafted the archetype of the modern music festival—and was a stouthearted and unforgettable character to boot

GRAMMYs/Sep 21, 2021 - 11:54 pm

Despite being perhaps the most important concert producer to ever live, George Wein didn’t disappear behind a curtain like the Wizard of Oz. Anyone who’s been to Newport Jazz Fest probably remembers the suspenders-clad senior citizen zipping around the grounds in his golf cart, nicknamed “The Wein Machine.” The image seems to sum him up: Public-spirited, lovably avuncular and darn near universally beloved.

But as close compatriot Danny Melnick remembers, he wasn’t only zipping around looking for handshakes and hugs: Sometimes, Wein was on his way to yell at him about something.

“He would get driven backstage and go [Faux-screams] “Dannnyyy!” Melnick tells “I would come over and he was like, ‘The goddamn craft vendors are too close.’ And I'm like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he's like, "Go over there and look.’” Eventually, Melnick says, he would have to excuse himself and deal with the crowd-congestion issue.

But although Wein could be “a tough boss,” their conflicts were always constructive and familial, never malevolent. “He deserves all the accolades and all the love and all the credit, but, definitely, he was a human being,” Melnick continues. “And for those of us that were close with him, we've definitely had all of those human experiences.”

George Wein in 2019. Photo: Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Wein passed away suddenly in his Manhattan apartment on September 13, 2021, drawing to a close a seven-decade career. He was 95. The important information about Wein is out there, both in myriad obituaries and in his memoir with Nate Chinen, Myself Among Others: A Life in Music.

The pianist and concert producer wasn’t just at the ground floor of Newport Jazz Fest, Newport Folk Fest and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest; he arguably crafted the archetype of the modern music festival, both on a creative and structural level. His record on civil rights is unassailable. But what no Wikipedia rundown of accomplishments can elucidate is how he became himself: The raw intelligence, people skills, business acumen and adoration of music that enabled him to inhabit a once-in-a-generation role.

While it would take hundreds of interviews to get to the bottom of who Wein was and what he meant to multiple entire musical communities, rang up five musical figures with unique perspectives on him: Large-ensemble leader Darcy James Argue, trumpeter Gregory Davis, Preservation Hall creative director Ben Jaffe, jazz impresario Danny Melnick and the Recording Academy’s Senior Membership and Project Manager, Reid Wick.

Below are their heartfelt and sometimes surprising expressions about George Wein, whose likes we’ll never see again. All of them answered questions about the man through the same emotional lens: “How did he make you feel?”

These as-told-to quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Darcy James Argue (bandleader, Secret Society)

Darcy James Argue & Secret Society at Newport Jazz Festival in 2019. Photo: Eva Hambach/AFP via Getty Images​

He saw so much of the evolution of the music over the course of his life and presented so much of it and documented it and was a real curatorial force in a way that I don't think is truly possible for anyone to ever replicate.

Why was he the one to take on that role in the world? What made him the antenna to pick all this up?

I could not really say. Obviously, being a musician himself—a pianist—I think, gave him a perspective on the music. You know, there aren't a lot of presenters who could get up there on the stage and play a few choruses.

So, I think that aspect of George's love of the music, coming from a certain amount of lived experience as an actual player, is a big part of it. All I can really speak to is my own particular interactions with him.

But for me, the striking thing was when I first met him, when he came down to the old Jazz Gallery to hear Secret Society in person. This was a very small venue and audience. He might have been one of 40, 50 people in the room. Just the fact that he was still doing that. At that point, he was in his eighties and still getting out to hear new music.

At a time when most people would be more than happy to rest on their laurels after an entire career of presenting the highest possible musicians in jazz—Louis ArmstrongMiles DavisDuke EllingtonThelonious Monk and that same person who had such incredible long-term fruitful associations with those artists was also coming down to our little Jazz Gallery show.

Having that sort of insatiable curiosity and desire to hear things with his own ears, just blew my mind and blew the mind of everyone in the group.

It was just an incredibly special night. I don't even fully know how George even heard about the band, to be honest, but he heard about it from someone and wanted to come down and hear it for himself.

That is what you would want of anyone in that position, going so far above and beyond the call of duty. Just to still be in the trenches in your eighties and nineties, seeking out unfamiliar music and trying to contextualize it.

You think of all the music George heard over the course of his life and it was just such an honor that he felt that Secret Society was a worthy part of that lineage. It just meant the world.

You’ve mentioned it was hard to get people to listen to Secret Society, or get on board with them, at that time. How having George on your side meant so much to you.

I'm sure at this point he was seeing a lot of music. Just having him show up to the audience was already an incredible validation for the amount of toil and blood and sweat that had gone into this band.

Then, shortly after, we were speaking on the phone and he was inviting us to play Newport, which was completely crazy. Certainly, in that situation, maybe you daydream about that happening, but the fact that it then just happened was just incredible. 

So, we played Newport in 2010 and have been back four times since then. He was just always so supportive of the group and I think had a sense of investment in the group because he was one of those people who heard us before, certainly before any other jazz presenters heard us.

Not to put words in his mouth, but with the kind of trajectory that we had, I'm sure at some level, there is a sense of pride in being able to take something that he found valuable and to be able to present it on the stage at Newport. And, to have that music resonate with the kind of people who have been going to that festival for years and years and years and never miss it.

I'm so enormously grateful to George and to his whole family of people involved in putting on the Newport festival. It really is kind of a family affair. There are people who have been part of the festival productions and their children are part of festival productions. 

And there's a community around George as well. That was very special for me to get to know and connect to and to see what this festival means to people and what it means to everyone in that orbit.

How did it feel to be around George?

Well, he was always so generous with his time in addition to the invitations to Newport. I did have lunch with him a few times at his apartment. Just seeing the incredible collection of African art and memorabilia and everything there was an incredible experience. 

George was just someone who had such a deep love of the music and wanted to connect me to his incredible past and the artists that he had seen in person and the knowledge that he had gained over so many years in the business. 

He would offer me advice. He was always curious about how things were going. “Did I have a booking agent yet?” or “Was I still doing all of this on my own?” And “Where were we playing when we booked Europe?” and all of these kinds of things.

To answer your question, it felt very avuncular. He was personally invested in how I, as a young person, was navigating the jazz business with this impossible outfit—this financially ruinous way of making music with a big band. And he was always very genuinely curious and asking questions about how I was making it work and what was next for me and what I was writing.

I will say that one of the last opportunities for George to hear one of my projects was Ogresse with Cécile McLorin Salvant—the Jazz at Lincoln Center presentation of it. I really wanted George to see that. I made sure that we extended the invitation and that he knew how important it was to me that he be able to see that show if he was able to make it. And thankfully he was, and he was able to hear it.

I think it showcased my connection to the tradition of the music in a more concrete way than my music with Secret Society. And I hope that George enjoyed hearing that part of my musical interests kind of foregrounded.

Gregory Davis (trumpeter, Dirty Dozen Brass Band)

Gregory Davis performing at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2017. Photo: Douglas Mason/Fairimage via Getty Images

Of course, I met him as a promoter—a festival producer and all that stuff. But as I got to know him personally, I personally became more and more impressed with him just as a human being, beyond music.

I lived by myself. I was doing well, earning money here in New Orleans as a musician. And my wife, at that time, was teaching school, but we couldn't get approved for a loan to buy a house, because I was a musician. I was making three or four times what she was making, but primarily because I was a musician, we couldn't get approved.

George caught wind of it and he put me in touch with a banker, who made sure that I was able to get the loan to buy the land but then get the money to build a house. And although he did that as a human being, he never brought it up again. He never made me feel obligated. He never made a big deal about it.

And then even after that, I attempted to buy some rental property and I had problems again. And then I mentioned it to him. He said, "Hey, go see that same banker. He'll take care of it." He made it possible just for me to do things. Maybe those things would have happened later on, but he just stepped in.

Speaking with the woman who was his caretaker, I later found out that he had done similar things for other musicians that had a hard time paying medical bills or mortgages. That kind of stuff you're not going to find on the internet.

Hardly anybody has a bad word to say about the guy. His legacy spans the latter half of the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st.

It's a rare occurrence that you would meet a person that just checks so many boxes on the humanitarian side. OK, yeah, he had an effect or played a part in furthering jazz just because of his involvement as a performer, producer, promoter, whatever.

But what we go through—what musicians go through on a personal level—affects what happens to them musically, whether or not they even sustain just playing music. He affected that greatly, and it's just rare in life that you meet a person that checks so many boxes.

There was no pretense about how much money he might've made or what he meant to the festival world, to the music world, whatever. For me, personally, that was the best quality about him—his humanism that he just exuded. That's the thing that I will always remember and cherish about him for the rest of my life.

Ben Jaffe (creative director, Preservation Hall Jazz Band)

Ben Jaffe and George Wein at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2012. Photo: Skip Bolen/WireImage via Getty Images

I feel very comfortable around older people and I've seen people go through the last chapter of their life dozens of times. Some people only get to see it with their grandparents or their parents, and I got to see it with a whole community.

It's a beautiful thing in New Orleans and I find comfort and solace in that, that death is not a sad transition. It's a beautiful transition because it leaves a torch and it leaves somebody's wisdom and knowledge behind. You start to be like: Oh. You start to find your own calling when there's these holes that are left.

There's a lot about George that isn't discussed. George and my dad [Preservation Hall co-founder Alan Jaffee] had a very, very close and special relationship. My dad was from a generation that was influenced and inspired by what George and Pete Seeger created with the folk festival and then later with the jazz festival.

My dad probably saw a piece of himself in George in the same way that he probably saw a little bit of himself in Bob Dylan. A young, Jewish kid attracted to regional folk music and spiritual music. Here are a bunch of East Coast Jews who are hung up on Mahalia Jackson and Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong and want to celebrate that music.

I heard somebody speaking about this in terms of technology. Someone was speaking about the actual age and generation of Steve Jobs and all of the creators of that whole universe, and how they all came from a very similar reference place.

That was the reason why my dad and George connected. What my dad did is he came to New Orleans and created a lot of what George did at Newport in New Orleans by establishing Preservation Hall and celebrating music. That's what George did: He celebrated a music community.

Read More: The Preservation Hall's Historic Legacy

George never thought of it. My mom [Preservation Hall co-founder Sandra Jaffe] doesn't think of it that way. If you talk to her or my dad about it, they would say, “Oh, well, we just did this thing. Without a strategy, without a plan. Just a high principle.”

They were principled people. That's actually what drove them and that's what's so beautiful about it. That’s what was so special about it. It came so naturally and was so embedded in their moral DNA. It just happened.

What George admired about my dad and what my dad admired about George is that they never lost sight of it being a business. “Triple bottom line” is a popular term in business circles where there are principles for a for-profit corporation. 

That was something that always existed with George and my father. There were always moral principles that drove their business. They just never articulated it that way. They never had to. Their work spoke for itself.

When you were around George, how did he make you feel?

As a business person, I often felt inadequate. I would show up at his apartment and he would be sitting at his desk. I would walk in and here's George looking at spreadsheets and profit and loss statements and on the phone with Chris McBride and Jay Sweet.

He’s yelling at people and screaming and asking me questions. He's like, "What's going on in the scene? I'm too old. I'm not out there. I'm not going to the clubs anymore. Who's doing what?"

I said, "George, have you heard of this guy, Kamasi Washington?" "No." I put the speaker up and played it for him and he was like, "Sounds like this other thing. Oh, it sounds a little bit like Miles Electric and this." He could immediately put it all together because he was a musician himself.

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He could culturally understand it. It's hard for me to keep up with stuff. For George to know who Kendrick Lamar is ... He relied on people like myself and Jay and others in his close circle to be that conduit to these next generations.

I found that beautiful. I love older people who want to know what's going on. They want to be on the scene. They want to know what's driving people. They want to know what's connecting with people.

George thought a lot of himself. He had a reason to. He climbed mountains and he achieved greatness. But I will say that he was also curious enough and humble enough to know and would acknowledge if he was wrong about something.

Give me an example of that.

I remember going to George and telling him after Katrina, I was like, “George, we're making an album. Tom Waits is singing on it. Steve Earle's singing on it. Richie Havens is going to be on it and the Blind Boys of Alabama and Mos Def.” And he just looked at me, and very sternly went, "That's not Preservation Hall."

Talk about just hitting you in the gut. It hit me in my gut. I said, "George, Preservation Hall hasn't been Preservation Hall since the first time you saw it—since George Lewis and Willie and Percy Humphrey passed away. That snapshot of Preservation Hall you had the first time you walked in the door—when that snapshot passed on, that period died with it."

In New Orleans, we pay homage to that better than anybody. We reflect on that. No matter where you're going—if you're the Neville Brothers, if you’re Jon Batiste, if you're Wynton MarsalisTerence BlanchardDonald HarrisonHarry Connick—if you're any of these people, you carry that with you for the rest of your life. You may not play every song, but it's in there. It's embedded in the soul of that.

I remember the record came out and we did some shows. And the next time I went to go see George, he said "You were right."

He calls me Benji. He goes, "Benji, you were right." That's how I know people who've known me my whole life. There's a small group of people who call me Benji. He said, "You were right. You reinvented this thing." That gave me so much confidence that I was doing the right thing.

People like George are so rare. They understand beyond the music what a person's doing. George understood what Bob Dylan was doing beyond his music. That's so valuable, to see beyond the notes, to see beyond the words that there's some energy connection between this artist and that artist. 

This is a blessing, a gift that some of us have inherited. And we don't question why, but when you recognize it, it's all you can do in life. George appreciated that and understood that. He wasn't easily fooled. To play on George’s stage, you had to be the real deal.

Danny Melnick (Absolutely Live Entertainment founder, jazz impresario)

George Wein and Danny Melnick at Newport Jazz Festival in 2015. Photo: Douglas Mason/Getty Images​

Well, George was a typical large personality and boss. He would encourage you and inspire you. And the work that we did was so exciting and so much fun, putting on these festivals and working with all of these amazing artists. 

We would just be euphoric and excited about the conclusion of these things. Every concert and every festival and every tour, it was just like this unique moment in time. And then when they were done, it was just like, wow. 

And for me, I just wanted more of it. I think a lot of us who worked with him and for him over the years, we wanted more of it. We wanted more live music.

But at the same time—as you probably know in your own life—he could be a real big pain in the ass also. He was a tough guy. George did not suffer fools. He did not accept mediocrity. He did not accept failure. Even though he failed a lot. A lot of festivals lost money or sponsors came and went.

I mean, his book talks so much about “This didn't make money. This failed. I got kicked out of Newport,” blah, blah, blah. When my mom read the book, she called me and she was like, “I don't understand. Everything was a failure.” I’m like, “Well, he took a lot of risks and some things failed. Things happen throughout life and through business. And when you're in business that long, this is what happens. Not everything can be fully successful all the time.”

But as an employee, he didn't take shit from us. And he shouldn't have, because he was paying us. Most of the time he was taking the risks on these events. He owned Festival Productions, Inc. for like 50 some-odd years on his own, by himself. And there were just so many times throughout my career with him where we were at it. Battling, yelling, arguing.

As much of a tough boss that he was, it never lasted. George did not hold a grudge against us. We couldn't hold grudges against him. We got through it. And a lot of the times those arguments and those battles were super passionate battles because we were dealing in a creative environment.

It's one thing if you're a stockbroker and you f*** up a deal and your boss just wants to rip you a new one because you lost a client $2 million, $20 million. But, for us, we were arguing about how we were advertising and marketing our shows and how the porta-johns were laid out at Newport—those types of things.

And we were all so passionate about the work and passionate about the music that we would get into it, but then we would move on. We always moved on. With George, he just didn't have time to hold a grudge.

He always used to say—and he said this a lot—”Focus on your friends; don't worry about your enemies.” And that also went to the staff. And so, all of us on the team, all of us that were working, producing these events—yeah, we would get into it and we'd have arguments. It was always politics.

But then, you turn around and you're like, “All right, we got to get this done.” Or “We have another one to do.” So it was this sort of duality of life with him, like almost with any other person in your life. 

So he got a ton of accolades over the last week and all these beautiful posts on socials and all these amazing articles, but he was also a real tough guy. He could be really tough and really aggravating, but I had an incredible run with him. 

Even though I had all these good and bad times with him, I have a tremendous amount of gratitude and a tremendous amount of happiness. And I have this life with him, and in that was able to affect his business and his work, and he clearly had a massive effect on me. So, this was sort of a two-way street.

From the way you characterize these arguments, it seems like they weren’t malevolent or vindictive, but ultimately constructive. Couples who love each other [can] fight all the time, and ideally, there’s a lesson unearthed in the conflict.

Totally. And I will tell you that George, he was married to Joyce for 46 or 47 years before she passed away and they never had children. We all refer to our experience as a festival family.

There are so many people who came and went over the years—assistants and stage managers and sound guys and back-line people and caterers and field-crew people, and then more of the executives like me and others who just were part of this. And we all, obviously looked at him as sort of like this fatherly, grandfatherly figure. And he definitely looked at us as his kids.

It was definitely that familial relationship in so many ways, and it wasn't a malicious thing. He never came to me and said “You're an asshole. I hate you. You don't know what you're doing,” blah, blah. It was never like that. It was always about the work.

George got to a point in his later years when he would—particularly at Newport—it's famous that they would drive him around in this golf cart. They called it the Wein Machine, and George would just get driven around. He could take pictures with the audience, say hello to people.

But he would see something. He would see a food booth in the wrong place or the craft vendors lined up too tight, so people couldn't move around the craft areas. And he would get driven backstage and go [Faux-screams] “Dannnyyy!”

I would come over and he was like, "The goddamn craft vendors are too close." And I'm like, "What are you talking about?" And he's like, "Go over there and look. Did you look?" And I'm like, "Ah, I don't know," and he was just, "Go look!" And then it would be a thing where I'd be like, "All right, I got to deal with this."

And that's the way he was. So, he deserves all the accolades and all the love and all the credit, but definitely he was a human being. And for those of us that were close with him, we've definitely had all of those human experiences.

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Reid Wick (Senior Membership & Project Manager, The Recording Academy)

First off, I didn’t really have the kind of relationship and didn’t interact with him on a regular basis like some of the people that you interviewed. I’m sure mine is far more tangential, so I kind of wanted to say that right off the bat. It may not be as important to the whole, raw story.

But I first met George many years ago. I worked at Loyola University College of Music here in New Orleans and was part of our team who started the music industry program in the mid-’90s. We put together advisory councils in New York and L.A. to start with and, through our local contacts, suggested we invite George to this meeting. It was at some lunch place by Lincoln Center.

We invited all these people and didn’t know who was going to show up. And George actually showed up with Danny Melnick! That’s when I met both of them together. And he was so gracious, but he was all about business. He showed up there: “Happy to meet you. OK, tell me what we’re doing here and what I need to do to help. How can I be involved? I love New Orleans.”  For him, it was “Let’s get to work. Let’s cut through any bulls***.”

So, that was my main interaction with him early on. And then just over the years, it’s been more of an observing role of him interacting with other people I’ve met in the industry.

I think the most important thing that I know about George is that these guys just wanted to recreate a Newport thing down here [in New Orleans]. George said there was something so special about the culture of New Orleans and South Louisiana that it had to be more than just recreate what they did in Newport. You need to be able to find what the real strengths and gems are and make that the centerpiece of the festival.

I think that’s the biggest takeaway for the community here in New Orleans: All the people I know that really admire George and what he did know the festival needs to be uniquely New Orleans. He really sought to make that come to fruition.

Business dealings aside, how did George make you feel?

He made me feel like what we have in New Orleans is important.

We probably have the most unique cultural scene on the planet with regard to not just one thing. What’s so special about New Orleans is that we have it all. We’re known for certain things out in the world, but when you dig deeper, we have every style of music.

When it comes to jazz, we have the whole spectrum from early traditional jazz—still being performed by these young kids today who are kicking ass—but we have modern progressive jazz. We have all this “out” stuff that some cats totally [embrace]. That whole spectrum is still very vibrant today, but we have the gospel. We have a freakin’ death metal scene here. Every style of music is available here.

That’s so intertwined with other aspects of the culture, like the food and arts and crafts. Everything that New Orleans has as a culture—a true mix of Caribbean, African and European—is represented by the festival. From my perspective—and I know I share the same perspective with so many people in our cultural community—his main goal was to make sure that all aspects were highlighted.

For me, Jazz Fest is the best representation of our entire culture—whether it’s Mardi Gras Indians, whether it’s the Gospel Tent, whether it’s the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs. Every genre of music, all the different food, all the different crafts. Just the focus on a 10-day period where everyone feels like they have the proper spotlight being shined on them.

All of it was George’s vision to make it happen. If the founding fathers would have had their way in the beginning, the vision was so tightly and narrowly focused that they didn’t really see the gems that they had. 

I think that’s the biggest thing George gave New Orleans. He made us look at our entirety of culture and wanted to create a platform to celebrate it all.

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Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

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He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Franc Moody
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."


Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.


L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC

billy idol living legend
Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring


Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage

"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

**Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?**

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

Living Legends: Nancy Sinatra Reflects On Creating "Power And Magic" In Studio, Developing A Legacy Beyond "Boots" & The Pop Stars She Wants To Work With

Graphic of 2023 GRAMMYs orange centered black background
2023 GRAMMYs

Graphic: The Recording Academy


Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.

GRAMMYs/Nov 23, 2022 - 03:01 pm

Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.

Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.

Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."

Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business. 

As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.

Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"

In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.

Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt." 

There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.

Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"

Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.

After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon. 

"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"

Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.

In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."

Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall. 

Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"

When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.

Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production. 

Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.

Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"

Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."

Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar. 

Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List