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First Look: Best New Artist

A breakdown of the nominees for Best New Artist at the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(For a complete list of 53rd GRAMMY Award nominees, click here.)

When you're following in the recent Best New Artist footsteps of a Legend (John), a woman who's shown she can Carrie (Underwood) an entire genre, a musical mansion (Amy Winehouse), and a bunch of good ole boys from Georgia who just love to play and sing (Zac Brown Band), you've got serious shoes to fill.

All five nominees for Best New Artist at the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards look to be more than up to the task. The group comprises a quintet that not only spans genres, but represents some of the freshest and most unique sounds in music today.

There's the massively successful and silky-voiced-beyond-his-years Canadian teen pop sensation Justin Bieber. Also from Canada, Drake is a rising force in hip-hop. Florence & The Machine mines the rich vein of ethereal female British singers stretching the boundaries of R&B and pop. England's Mumford & Sons mix influences of country, bluegrass, rock, and folk into a powerful musical stew. Portland, Ore.-native Esperanza Spalding is one of the most strikingly creative bass players to come around in decades, and is also an accomplished composer and vocalist.

For the 16-year-old Bieber, a GRAMMY would add to his growing list of accomplishments. Since being discovered by his manager Scooter Braun on YouTube and the platinum performance of his 2009 debut EP, My World, Bieber has taken the pop world by storm. With My World, he became the first solo artist to have four songs from a debut album chart in the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 prior to its release. Skillfully mixing elements of pop and R&B, his first full-length release, 2010's My World 2.0, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Drake rose to fame as an actor on the Canadian TV drama "Degrassi: The Next Generation" and has expanded his massive talent in emerging as a first-class rapper and pop singer. Drake hit big in 2009 with the ubiquitous smash "Best I Ever Had," which was nominated for two GRAMMY Awards, including Best Rap Song. Bolstered by an all-star GRAMMY-winning team of collaborators in Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and Lil Wayne, among others, his 2010 album, Thank Me Later, hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

 

Florence & The Machine is the recording alias of London-based singer Florence Mary Leontine Welch. By any name, she's a songwriter and vocalist to be reckoned with. Similar to recent female Best New Artist winners Adele and Winehouse, Florence & The Machine isn't interested in any single style or genre, but rather in creating lush soundscapes with tinges of soul, pop and rock over dark lyrical content. FATM caught the eyes and ears of Bono, and will open dates on U2's North American stadium trek in 2011.

Mumford & Sons have an Americana sound unique for a British band, but it's a recipe that has worked for them. The group's GRAMMY nod comes on the heels of their debut album, Sigh No More, which has made critics and a growing legion of festival-going fans sigh with reverence. The album has been certified platinum in the UK and went gold in the United States, and was also a finalist for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize, honoring the best British or Irish album of the year.

Spalding came to the attention of the jazz world by mastering the acoustic double bass at the age of 15. In more than a decade since, she has showcased her talents across the worlds of pop, fusion, jazz, blues, and funk, while also sprinkling in elements of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian music. At age 20, she became one of the youngest instructors at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music. NPR Music described her most recent album, Chamber Music Society, as exuding "a level of sophisticated intimacy."

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Who will win the coveted Best New Artist trophy? Tune in to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards live from Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. For updates and breaking news, please visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook.

(Matt Sycamore is a Pacific Northwest-based freelance music writer.)

First Look: Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year


 

Meet Justin Bieber With GRAMMY Charity Online Auctions
Justin Bieber

Photo: Lester Cohen/WireImage.com

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Meet Justin Bieber With GRAMMY Charity Online Auctions

Bid on an exclusive VIP concert experience to meet Justin Bieber

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

GRAMMY Charity Online Auctions has launched a new auction offering bidders the opportunity to bid on an exclusive VIP concert experience with Justin Bieber. Open now through Oct. 25, the auction package features two tickets and meet-and-greet passes to an upcoming Bieber concert.

To place your bid on this exclusive experience, visit www.charitybuzz.com. All proceeds will benefit the GRAMMY Foundation.

And The GRAMMY Went To ... Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding

Photo: Michael Caulfield/WireImage.com

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And The GRAMMY Went To ... Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding, Best New Artist

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(In the coming weeks GRAMMY.com will feature information and video highlights on winners from the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards, held Feb. 13 in Los Angeles. Each installment will offer the winning or related video and some pertinent, and not so pertinent, information about the track and the artists.)

Track: "Little Fly" (iTunes>)

Artist: Esperanza Spalding

Won for: Best New Artist

Previous wins: None

Did you know?: Spalding was hired as an instructor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music at just 20 years old. She is the first pure jazz artist to win the coveted Best New Artist award. On her 2008 album Esperanza, Spalding sings in English, Portuguese and Spanish. At the invitation of President Barack Obama, she performed at both the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony in Oslo, Norway, and also at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in 2009. Along with Bobby McFerrin, she co-hosted this year's 53rd GRAMMY Pre-Telecast Ceremony.

"Little Fly" is the opening track on Spalding's 2010 release Chamber Music Society, and is an illustration of William Blake's poem "Little Fly." The album peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's Jazz Albums chart.

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Click on the "And The GRAMMY Went To ... " tag below for links to other GRAMMY News stories in this series.

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Ladies Antebellum And Gaga, Jeff Beck, David Frost, John Legend Win Three GRAMMYs Each

Arcade Fire wins Album Of The Year; Esperanza Spalding wins Best New Artist

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(To view a list of 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards winners, click here.)

The evening began with a tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, but by the time the last of the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards was handed out on Feb. 13, several other singers and bands looked something like royalty. Foremost among them was Lady Antebellum, who walked away with three trophies while the group members earned two more each for songwriting categories.

Lady Antebellum at the GRAMMYs

 

During a show memorable for its range of fully fueled performances, the country superstars sang a pitch-perfect medley of tunes that ended with a quiet rendition of the song that launched them, "Need You Now," and shortly afterward collected the Song Of The Year GRAMMY for it (along with co-writer Josh Kear, with whom they also took Best Country Song). But there was plenty more to come for the trio. They also took home the GRAMMY for Best Country Album for Need You Now. Accepting that award, lead singer Charles Kelley said, "This song has completely flipped our world upside down." By the time Lady Antebellum stood up to collect a trophy for Record Of The Year for "Need You Now," they were in disbelief, and possibly discombobulated: "Oh my gosh, we're so stunned we started walking the wrong direction," said singer Hillary Scott breathlessly.

Also racking up awards was Lady Gaga, who claimed three: Best Pop Vocal Album for The Fame Monster, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video for "Bad Romance." Never one to miss the chance to make an entrance, she hatched herself onstage from a giant opaque egg. That was a riff on her new single, "Born This Way," and perhaps her bared shoulders, which sprouted a pair of pointy elbows, were too. Her dancers and outfit gave off a Cleopatra vibe, but Gaga can't be stopped from seeming ultra-modern, and her performance of "Born This Way" reflected that; it was a warp-speed whirlwind.

Lady Gaga at the GRAMMYs



 

In keeping with that same modernist — or maybe futurist — spirit, she accepted her award for Best Pop Vocal Album in black body armor. But Gaga also proved she can be an old-fashioned girl with a soft side. In an emotional acceptance speech for that award, she surprised the audience by thanking Whitney Houston: "I imagined she was singing…because I wasn't secure enough in myself to imagine I was a superstar. Whitney, I imagined you."

Leading the nominees with 10 nods revolving around Recovery, an album that detailed his struggles with addiction but also reestablished him as a rap force to be reckoned with, Eminem took home trophies for Best Rap Album — a triumph over rivals including Jay-Z, Drake and B.o.B — and Best Rap Solo Performance for "Not Afraid." Onstage, his swagger proved undiminished.

A flame-haired Rihanna opened Eminem's performance with a searching rendition of their duet "Love The Way You Lie," but it was Slim Shady who came out blazing, spitting the lyrics to that song before raging into "I Need A Doctor" with Dr. Dre and singer Skylar Grey; Adam Levine from Maroon 5 handled piano duty.

Closing the show and likely lifting the Sunday-night spirits of indie kids everywhere was the Canadian collective Arcade Fire, who won the Album Of The Year GRAMMY for The Suburbs and, before the night's final performance, turned in a frothy and fierce rendition of the rocking "Month Of May."

Arcade Fire at the GRAMMYs

 

Other multiple winners for the evening included classical music producer David Frost, legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck and R&B artist John Legend, who each earned three awards. Among those who won two each were alternative rock band the Black Keys, jazz giant Herbie Hancock, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, urban/alternative group the Roots, Keith Urban, and gospel singer BeBe Winans.

And in a bit of surprise, jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist over teen phenom Justin Bieber, as well Canadian rapper Drake, and adventurist rock outfits Florence & The Machine and Mumford & Sons.

Esperanza Spalding at the GRAMMYs

 

The show also featured a few firsts, including a first-time ever GRAMMY performance by Rolling Stone frontman Mick Jagger, who helped pay tribute to fallen R&B singer Solomon Burke.

But if there was also a constant, it was the annual, high-profile celebration of music that the GRAMMYs represent, and the 53rd GRAMMYs fit the bill once again, with performances, pairings and awards presentations that were full of pleasant musical surprises.
 

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GRAMMY  liveblog
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ACL Celebrates 40 Years

After 40 years and more than 800 performances, "Austin City Limits" continues to thrive as America's longest-running televised music program

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

When GRAMMY winner Gary Clark Jr. taped his "Austin City Limits" episode with Alabama Shakes in late 2012, the blues guitarist had already performed at the White House with Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, and B.B. King, and played alongside Eric Clapton. In fact, Clark had also already played on "Austin City Limits," appearing five seasons earlier in a tribute to Jimmy Reed. But when he stood center stage before its iconic Austin skyline backdrop, finally joining a fraternity populated by so many of his idols, the Austin, Texas, native, then 28, said, "I've been wanting to do this for 16 years."

Like Clark, who learned to play guitar by wearing out his VHS tape of the 1996 tribute episode to Stevie Ray Vaughan, GRAMMY nominee Sarah Jarosz also grew up watching the public television series — which, unlike other TV programs, showcases artists performing actual, uninterrupted sets. Multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Jarosz, who was raised in Wimberley, just outside of Austin, recalls, "Just getting to see some of my musical heroes on that show was pretty priceless, and inspiring."

The PBS series — the longest-running televised music program in the United States — has helped launch careers for 39 years. Even those who gain international renown before setting foot on the show's storied stage count their performance as a bucket list/holy grail moment. On Oct. 3, the night before season 40 kicks off with GRAMMY winner Beck, PBS will air "Austin City Limits Celebrates 40 Years," a two-hour special featuring some of the series' most beloved artists and rising stars, from Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt and Joe Ely to Clark and Alabama Shakes.

Co-hosted by actor/musician Jeff Bridges and GRAMMY winner Sheryl Crow, the special combines footage from a four-hour event taped in June and the show's inaugural Austin City Limits Hall of Fame induction ceremony, held in April. Among the first class of inductees were GRAMMY-winning pedal steel player Lloyd Maines, Vaughan and Willie Nelson, who taped the pilot episode of "Austin City Limits" in 1974.

ACL, as it's commonly called, has featured more than 800 live performances since it first aired 40 years ago. Conceived by KLRU-TV (then KLRN) program director Bill Arhos, producer Paul Bosner and director Bruce Scafe, the series initially focused on the unique music scene that had sprouted in central Texas, where country, blues, folk, and rock had cross-pollinated into something labeled progressive country, or "redneck rock." (Nelson's strain was dubbed "outlaw country." The nascent genre would become known as alt-country before morphing into Americana.) Broadcast during a 1975 PBS pledge drive, the show's fundraising success got it picked up for the 1976 season.

Since then, it's managed not only to stay on the air, but gain popularity, weathering the birth of MTV and other competition for viewers' attention. Time magazine has cited ACL as one of the 10 most influential music programs in TV history. It's also the only television program ever awarded a National Medal of Arts. Other accolades include a Peabody Award and its designation as an official rock and roll landmark (both the show and its venues) by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

"Nobody ever thought it would go this long," says KLRU CEO and General Manager Bill Stotesbery. "Shows don't run this long in television. I think it's due to the fact that the show's maintained a very high level of quality and that it's on PBS, because PBS has a commitment to this kind of programming."

ACL also has grown in scope, reaching far beyond genre or geographical borders to feature artists from Juanes, Mos Def and Radiohead, to Buddy Guy and John Mayer, Femi Kuti and Coldplay.

ACL also grew well beyond KLRU's Studio 6A on the University of Texas campus, its home for 36 years. In 2002 the series spawned the now-annual Austin City Limits Festival and in 2011 PBS first aired the "ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival," featuring highlights from the Americana Honors & Awards Show. Also in 2011, the series relocated to the newly built ACL Live at the Moody Theater in downtown Austin on Willie Nelson Avenue, with audience capacity increasing from 350 to 2,750.

For Jarosz and performers such as GRAMMY-winning jazz artist Esperanza Spalding, who wasn't allowed to watch non-PBS programming as a child, both stages hold magic — as does the experience of playing on them.

"To get to really do a [full] set, it's like performing one act of a play or performing three acts of a play," says Spalding. "It makes a difference for the audience to see a fuller palette of what you are as an artist. … It's really such a luxury to get to stretch out and show your whole self. Forty years is a testament to that. People want to know what the artist is saying."

There's a definite career bump, too.

"Probably 90 percent of the people who come up to me after my live shows say that [ACL's] how they heard about me and that's where they first saw my performance and heard my music," says Jarosz, who was 18 when she recorded her first episode. "To be given that chance really has helped a lot."

ACL executive producer and host Terry Lickona, who also co-produces the GRAMMY Awards and is a former Recording Academy Chair, says the show's longevity has made it even more desirable to artists.

"They see 'Austin City Limits' as a validation of their music," notes Lickona, who joined ACL in its second season.  

His wish list still includes Bruce Springsteen and Prince, who's apparently a fan.

"I've heard from other people [Prince] saw Esperanza Spalding and Grupo Fantasma, and he loves to tune in to see if there's somebody new he's never heard of before," says Lickona.

Speaking of career bumps, Prince subsequently hired Grupo Fantasma as his backing band for various high-profile gigs, including a Golden Globes after-party.

Lickona also still gets a thrill from discovering new, original talent, too, and sharing it with viewers — via TV, the Internet or some other still-to-come technology.

"We're all proud of where 'Austin City Limits' has come from," says Ed Bailey, vice president of brand development for ACL. "But we're proud of where it's going. Forty years is a stopping off point to celebrate where we've been … but we're also looking for the next thing. That's why ACL still matters."

(Austin, Texas-based writer/editor Lynne Margolis has contributed to a variety of print, broadcast and online media, including American Songwriter and Paste magazines, Rollingstone.com, the Christian Science Monitor and NPR. She also writes bios for new and established artists.)