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First-Time Nominee: BT (Part One)

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

The Recording Academy asked this year's first-time GRAMMY nominees to collect their thoughts and share what it feels like to be nominated for a GRAMMY. Tune in to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, Feb. 13 on the CBS Television Network from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT).

This story begins on Feb. 26, 1985. Music and images from the 27th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the grand Shrine Auditorium in sunny Los Angeles flickered to life, flying by primitive means from antennae through the airwaves to set-top boxes across the United States. Small resonant frequencies bouncing through the air to a family television with rabbit ears in Rockville, a small town nestled in the suburbs of Maryland.

The temperature was in the lower 40s that day and raining. I was a hopeful, bright, awkward 13-year-old student of the arts. In those first 13 years of my life, I'd been avidly devoted to the study and practice of music. I'd played innumerable Chopin etudes (my favorite still being Op. 25 No. 7 in C minor) and studied composition and theory under the guidance of Setirios Vlahopolis at the Washington Conservatory. Each summer I mowed lawns to buy my first synthesizers and drum machines. As a young boy, my love of music absolutely consumed me. From the age of 4 onward, I was devoted completely to unraveling the complexities and beauty of anything my ears could hear. Music was (and still is) my safe place, my first love, my awe and wonderment, and my silence.

On that foggy evening 25 years ago, a spark was lit in my 13-year-old heart that I carry with me to this very day. I saw four modern masters of my instrument, using the most cutting-edge technology of the time, innovating and propelling the medium forward in a single, monumental push. I watched this monolithic event in awe. Those men were Herbie Hancock, Howard Jones, Thomas Dolby, and Stevie Wonder. That performance at the 27th Annual GRAMMY Awards, sandwiched just before a commercial break, sculpted an entire universe of possibility and hope in my adolescent heart. It is the moment that made me believe it is possible to be embraced and honored for accomplishment and innovation, and better yet by a group of your peers. At that moment, anything became possible.

I returned to the halls of Tilden Middle School the next day with an ineffable spark that remains in me still.

It's amazing how we all have defining moments, moments that shape our topography. It's also amazing that it sometimes takes years to see the beautiful lines of elevation, longitude and latitude that have become manifest and connect from such simple things.

Flash forward a few years. I studied earnestly, forfeiting a social life for arduous practice and devotion to all things music. I was accepted to Boston's Berklee College of Music at the age of 15. Not long after, I got a one-bedroom apartment in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley. With a mattress on the floor and a diet consisting solely of packaged Ramen noodles, I made my demo tapes and submitted them all over town. I was shot down a thousand times by record labels and A&R people that didn't understand, or if they did, didn't care.

But I did. And I stayed the course. Even in the mid-90s, when finances forced a sabbatical from L.A. and return to my parent's house in Maryland, I did not quit. Putting blinders onto the reality of my daily life, I poured myself into music. I attended lectures and read Keyboard as though it were a sacred text. I built instruments in my bedroom, studied coding, practiced Hannon exercises, and kept my ear to the ground with anything happening in modern music. As far as my career, however, nothing was happening.

Then something did. On blind faith, I sold my clunker car and started a record label with my childhood friend Ali Shirizinia. I made a record called Embracing The Future, and that record found its way across the waters to England where people were actually interested. I met DJ Sasha, who was playing my records across the UK and began to visit there, returning several times to record and perform, until eventually I signed my first record deal in 1994 with Warner Music in the UK. By this time, my first album IMA was completed. IMA was primarily an instrumental album containing protracted and elongated compositional forms that were described as "lush and dense" and "dripping with years of study." But also audible to me were the years of hope and deliberation that were finally beginning to bear the first buds of fruit.

By 1999 my desire to compose music for motion pictures landed me back in California. I landed a big Hollywood manager and scored film after film and produced project after project, the months becoming a blur of marathon work sessions. Steadily over time, the projects became bigger and more influential. Almost all the money I earned was reinvested into my work; creating new technologies, proprietary software, handmade instruments, and the like. While scoring films was fine, my ongoing desire was (and still is) to push forward the use of electronics as a medium for human expression into the mainstream. I longed to be additive.

Then in the middle of all this, something beautiful and unexpected happened.

Read Part Two

(BT is nominated for Best Electronic/Dance Album for These Hopeful Machines at the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards. In addition to his solo career, he has worked with artists including Tori Amos, Peter Gabriel, Seal, and Sting.)

 

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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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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And The GRAMMY Went To ... Usher

Usher's "There Goes My Baby"

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: "There Goes My Baby" (iTunes>)

Artist: Usher

Won for: Best Male R&B Vocal Performance

Previous wins: Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 2001 for "U Remind Me"; Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 2002 for "U Don't Have To Call"; Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals in 2004 for "My Boo" with Alicia Keys; Best Contemporary R&B Album in 2004 for Confessions; Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2004 for "Yeah!" with Lil Jon and Ludacris
 

Did you know?: "There Goes My Baby" is featured on Usher's sixth studio album, Raymond V Raymond, his third release to top the Billboard 200 and his second to pick up Best Contemporary R&B Album honors. "There Goes My Baby" cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Usher performed his No. 1 single "OMG" on Sunday's GRAMMY telecast with his protégé Justin Bieber. With the help of Usher, Bieber landed a recording contract with Island Def Jam Music Group Chairman & CEO Antonio "L.A." Reid at the age of 15, just one year older than Usher was when he signed with Reid's LaFace label in 1992. Usher launched an acting career in the '90s, appearing in films such as The Faculty and Light It Up. He is a part owner of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, and owns his own record label, US Records.

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First-Time Nominee: BT (Part Two)

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

The Recording Academy asked this year's first-time GRAMMY nominees to collect their thoughts and share what it feels like to be nominated for a GRAMMY. Tune in to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, Feb. 13 on the CBS Television Network from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT).

I found out I was going to be a father. It was then I made a very conscious and life-changing choice. I chose to return to Maryland and raise my daughter in a simple place, where she could flourish and be a child. At the height of my "climb," I left the fast track of Los Angeles. After almost 15 years of purposeful work and diligent innovation, I walked away.

I left to be a dad.

It is not to say my work did not continue, it did. It was just now crammed into the wee hours of the night, after my little girl was fed, bathed and read to, and finally sound asleep. For those sleepless years and through a period of incredible personal heartache and conflict, the themes and meaning in my work deepened. My heart grew in a way I did not know was possible at that time. My life and my work became an expression and devotion to my daughter, and to the idea that hope and perseverance have meaning. I also developed a deepening compassion for the human condition. I began to see that music is one of the few voices that soothes all our common struggles. I wrote from that place.

While I lived in Los Angeles I proudly served on The Recording Academy Board of the Los Angeles Chapter. I pushed hard to forward the acknowledgement and understanding of electronic music and culture. I petitioned the board for a Best Electronic Album GRAMMY category. I wrote a proposal, met with my peers and friends, and with pride and enthusiasm I worked to convey why our music and community matter. I implored bands and artists to submit their works. Through those years of prodigious effort and struggle, that hope in me never died. As the years went by, however, the prospect for acknowledgement by my peers waned, and after many years grew silent.

On Dec. 2, 2010, at 6:50 a.m. (UK time), I landed in London. Prior to my flight it had been a long day of school errands and I couldn't for the life of me figure out if I was supposed to get the shrimp for the teacher conference or not. Did I remember to pack my daughter's ballet slippers for "The Nutcracker" rehearsal? I didn't know. My psoas and left shoulder were killing me (as they usually are after 20 years of flying) and I couldn't imagine how I would manage to perform in India for the next four days. I was deeply exhausted and overwhelmed.

When we touched down, I quickly turned on my phone to call my daughter, but my phone was going haywire. It was like every text message in the world had mistakenly come to my phone. They were too fast to read, hundreds filed in, one after another. I finally interrupted them and saw a message from my best friend of over 20 years now.

It said, "Brian, you did it. You've been nominated for a GRAMMY!!"

There are some moments that are impossible to explain and the next hour after this moment is kind of a blur. What I do remember, I will share.

Silence and then inconsolable tears.

I wept from the place of that 13-year-old kid with a dream. It was as if all of the years of work and struggle, hope and diligence had converged in this one moment. I felt as though my peers had joined in quiet solidarity to tell me, "Son, your work has value."

My nomination for Best Electronic/Dance Album seemed to resonate with a place in me that hadn't been opened since I was a child. It was, and is, the greatest professional moment and honor of my entire life. Ever.

Well, they had to help me off the plane. Everyone was saying, "Is he okay?" By the time I was able to get the words out, "I've been nominated for a GRAMMY," the entire plane erupted into applause. It was nearly as powerful as watching my daughter's birth. In some ways more so, just different — very different.

I wouldn't be truthful if I said I didn't want to win. I'd also be lying if I said I hadn't picked out a spot on our little mantle for a GRAMMY so I could look at it every day. But, that being said, this is the finish line.

I proudly accept this nomination as the greatest win of my entire life.

Thomas, Herbie, Howard, and Stevie, thank you for providing this kid from suburban Maryland with a dream. Thank you forinnovating and for inspiring me to do the same. Thank you from the bottom of my 13-year-old heart.

(BT is nominated for Best Electronic/Dance Album for These Hopeful Machines at the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards. In addition to his solo career, he has worked with artists including Tori Amos, Peter Gabriel, Seal, and Sting.)

Read Part One