Here's What Went Down At "A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change"

Yolanda Adams

Photo courtesy of CBS


Here's What Went Down At "A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change"

Featuring performances by stars from Patti LaBelle to Andra Day to Gladys Knight, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change" was a decades-spanning celebration of the songs that both reflect and alter the course of social justice history

GRAMMYs/Mar 18, 2021 - 09:01 pm

When Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land," he certainly understood he was expressing something important to the world. Ditto John Lennon with "Imagine" and Marvin Gaye with "What's Going On." But could any of them have known we'd still be singing them in 2021? That amid the racial nightmares of George Floyd's killing and the anti-Asian violence that just battered Georgia, we'd return to the well of songs from 50 or more years ago for healing? 

Welcome to "A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change," a special that solemnly, respectfully paid homage to the songs that altered the course of social-justice history. But the event, which the hip-hop heavyweight Common hosted, didn't just focus on the great tracks of the 20th century; it filtered them through the musical luminaries of the 21st.

A mix of archival performances and COVID-safe new ones, the special succeeded in showing that our modern horrors aren't so new at all—and that throughout history, brave men and women have risen to address the changing tides of history in song. Thus, the young guard (LeAnn Rimes, Chris Stapleton and Andra Day) rubbed shoulders with the old (Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle), showing these well-worn standards still emanate transformative power.

It's no accident that Common was at the helm of "A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change"; check out his socially conscious 1999 classic Like Water For Chocolate if you're curious about how he fits into this puzzle. (Not to mention his poignant performance of "Glory," the theme song to the 2014 film Selma, with John Legend at that year's GRAMMY Awards show.)

After the MC's dignified introduction, the night kicked off with a nocturnal version of John Lennon's "Imagine" by the pearl-covered singer Cynthia Erivo. She ended the rendition with a hair-raising vamp, surrounded by projected imagery of placards reading things like "Close The Camps" and "Unjustified War Is Criminal."

Country titan Chris Stapleton then performed Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," showing how the old chestnut easily transmutes into a variety of American idioms. (To this point: check out Jon Batiste's melancholic version from 2018's Hollywood Africans.) 

In a tonal 180, LeAnn Rimes then performs Loretta Lynn's saucy (and at the time, unspeakably scandalous) 1975 ode to birth control, "The Pill." Her masked, punked-up backing band showed us how the tune essentially invented Bikini Kill. The womens' liberation theme continued with R&B great Patti LaBelle laying into Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me." 

That performance segued into even heavier territory with a version of the "Strange Fruit" by Andra Day—who recently won a Golden Globe for her performance in 2021's The U.S. vs. Billie Holiday. She crooned the anti-lynching classic in a crepuscular, green-screened forest. Showing that times tragically haven't changed in certain respects, "Strange Fruit" segued into Leon Bridges' "Sweeter," a response to George Floyd, featuring Terrace Martin on blazing saxophone.

These issues represent mere facets of human disharmony. But Marvin Gaye's intellect and imagination were keen enough to not only grasp that vastness but channel it into a song for everyone. Enter seven-time GRAMMY winner Gladys Knight, who stepped on stage to perform the immortal "What's Going On" with Sheila E. on percussion, Israel Houghton on guitar, D Smoke on keys and musical director Adam Blackstone on bass.

"Hi, Marvin!" Knight crowed at the outset. "I miss you so much. I love your music—the way you write, the way you sing, the whole thing. You touch my spirit every time you sing a song."

The specter of war was addressed with, well, "War," the Norman Whitfield tune we know from Edwin Starr's version. And after his piano-and-gospel version of his 2021 anti-Trump song "Weeping in the Promised Land"—crescendoing with a collective wail of "I can't breathe!"—John Fogerty rocked things up with Creedence Clearwater Revival's thrilling, outraged, oft-misunderstood classic "Fortunate Son."

Cutting to the essence of the other-ness that feeds racial division, CBS's Gayle King sat down with singer-actor Billy Porter to discuss the struggles of growing up gay and Black—and how music with a social conscience is returning to the forefront in 2021. 

"I'm feeling once again the energy surrounding the power of protest music," Porter said. When asked about his choice to cover Patti LaBelle's "You Are My Friend" for the show, "I just wanted to choose something that was about chosen family," he added. "We talk often in this world about family values, but what happens when your family—your biological family—don't have the tools to understand how to love you?" 

As Porter sang the empathetic ballad on a flower-festooned stage, images of people of all colors, identities and persuasions embracing—often draped in rainbow flags—flashed on the screen. "I want to talk to you a little bit about where I've been in the world!" he crowed midsong.

"A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change" also honored and elevated Latin voices. After a brief preamble from Common about the meaning and import of the neologism "Latinx," Gloria and Emilio Estefan discussed how Latin music is woven into the fabric of American social change. Their daughter Emily Estefan then performed "This Is What," a tribute to Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and Latina member of the Supreme Court.

Sotomayor was nominated in 2009 by then-President Barack Obama, and Brad Paisley touches on the legacies of our first Black president and first lady. From the floor of the Woolworth on 5th restaurant in Nashville, the country star performed his ascendant "Welcome to the Future," which he wrote in response to Obama's election. Paisley then strolled to the counter, explaining that the restaurant was a historic spot where John Lewis and his friends took a stand for racial justice in 1960.

The special then homed in on "We Shall Overcome," a cornerstone of the civil rights movement. Yolanda Adams laid down a reverent monologue about the tune to the haunting strains of a gospel choir. But then, something unexpected happened. The lights flared up, and Adams upshifted several gears, launching into a raucous take on the soul-strengthening classic. 

It was a joyful capper for a heartening night, conceived and broadcast for all the right reasons. But most importantly, almost every minute of "A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change" was stuffed with music, which is usually the loam from where real change springs.

"A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change" is available on-demand on Paramount+.

From Aretha Franklin To Public Enemy, Here's How Artists Have Amplified Social Justice Movements Through Music

John Lennon, Sting, Alicia Keys: 7 Songs For Starting Over In 2018

John Lennon

Photo: Ron Howard/Redferns


John Lennon, Sting, Alicia Keys: 7 Songs For Starting Over In 2018

With hits from Leonard Cohen, the Byrds, Nina Simone, and more, find the motivation for a brand-new you this New Year

GRAMMYs/Jan 4, 2018 - 11:12 pm

Each New Year offers the opportunity for a fresh new start, whether you're looking to wash away the sins of the previous year or reinvent a better future that follows your ultimate dreams. Starting over isn't an easy task, but we have one recommendation that will help motivate you: music.

Don't be a fuddy duddy. Kick-start 2018 with this playlist of seven songs all about starting over, including hits from John Lennon, the Byrds, Sting, and Alicia Keys, among others.

1. The Byrds, "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

Starting with its lyrics, "To everything (turn, turn, turn)/There is a season," this GRAMMY Hall Of Fame classic is a great reminder that everything is always changing anyway, so now is as good a time as any to give something new a chance. The composition was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, but the lyrics come almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. The song didn't hit it big until the Byrds got their turn at it in 1965. Reportedly, it took Roger McGuinn & Co. 78 takes to perfect their folk-rock arrangement.

2. Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"

GRAMMY winner Leonard Cohen had a knack for poetry powerful enough to move mountains, and his "Anthem" is one such gem. This 1992 tune about embracing imperfection and marching forward in the face of adversity contains one of Cohen's most-quoted lines: "Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." And we'll leave you with one final line from the master that encapsulates starting over: "The birds they sing, at the break of day/Start again, I heard them say/Don't dwell on what has passed away/Or what is yet to be."

3. Gil Scott-Heron, "I'm New Here"

Taken from his 2010 album of the same name, "I'm New Here" came near the end of Gil Scott-Heron's storied life. The album saw Scott-Heron, according to Drowned In Sound's Robert Ferguson, "pick over the bones of his life, acknowledging the hard times and his own mistakes, but standing proud of all they have led him to become." Embodying this sentiment accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Scott-Heron's bluesy, semi-spoken "I'm New Here" brings out the poignancy of change. Its key lyric, "No matter how far wrong you've gone/You can always turn around," is something to keep in mind year-round, let alone January.

4. Alicia Keys, "Brand New Me"

Alicia Keys went full bore on the empowering messages of her 2012 album, Girl On Fire —  the Best R&B Album winner at the 56th GRAMMY Awards — including the track, "Brand New Me." Co-written with singer/songwriter Emeli Sandé, the soft pop/R&B ballad describes growing as a person and becoming a brand-new version of yourself. "Brand new me is about the journey it takes to get to a place where you are proud to be a new you," Keys wrote on her website at the time of the song's release.

5. John Lennon, "(Just Like) Starting Over"

A quintessential start-anew song, former Beatle John Lennon included "(Just Like) Starting Over" on his GRAMMY-winning 1980 album, Double Fantasy. "(Just Like) Starting Over" was the album's first single because Lennon felt it best represented his return following a five-year hiatus from music. It's also a love song, but the theme of starting over has a universal resonance "It's time to spread our wings and fly/Don't let another day go by my love/It'll be just like starting over." It became Lennon's second chart-topping single in the U.S., reaching No. 1 after his death on Dec. 8, 1980.

6. Nina Simone, "Feeling Good"

"It's a new dawn/It's a new day/It's a new life for me/I'm feelin' good." Could you ask for better lyrics for embarking on a new journey? Nina Simone recorded her version of "Feeling Good," which was originally written for the musical "The Roar Of The Greasepaint — The Smell Of The Crowd," on her 1965 album I Put A Spell On You. While artists such as Michael Bublé, John Coltrane, George Michael, and Muse subsequently covered it, no alternative is quite as powerful — or soulful — as Simone's.

7. Sting, "Brand New Day"

Sting's "Brand New Day" has a lesson for inspiring motivation to start the New Year with fresh eyes: "Turn the clock to zero, buddy/Don't wanna be no fuddy-duddy/We started up a brand new day." The bright, catchy pop tune and its namesake 1999 album resonated with fans, landing it at No. 9 on the Billboard 200. The track (and album) earned Sting GRAMMYs — Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Album — at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards.

What's Your New Year's Music Resolution?


We Will, We Will Shock You

A collection of shocking album covers that might make you look twice (or look away)

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

As the baby boomer-fueled market moved from singles to albums in the '60s and '70s, artists began using LP covers as a means to create bold visual statements, occasionally using nudity, sexual imagery or striking graphics. Sometimes the purpose was to create art for the ages, while other times it was to push boundaries. Either way, the most controversial covers were often banned or altered by record companies for fear of public or retail outrage. One of the most famous cases of censorship was one of the first — the Beatles' "butcher" cover for 1966's Yesterday And Today, which featured a grinning Fab Four covered in raw meat and plastic baby doll parts. (The cover was reportedly an anti-Vietnam war commentary by the group.) Capitol Records issued a new cover with a less-shocking photo after the original caused an uproar. In the '70s and '80s, German rock band the Scorpions made a series of albums with disturbing sexual imagery, including 1976's notorious (and quickly banned) Virgin Killer featuring a nude young girl. The cover was replaced by a conventional band portrait.

While shocking album covers do still exist, they have occurred with less frequency since the '90s as CDs, which de-emphasized cover art, replaced LPs and pop culture grew more permissive. Now, as album sales shift from physical to digital, the age of shock album covers is starting to seem like a bygone era. Here are a few other album covers that shocked us, and might shock you too.

Moby Grape
Moby Grape, 1967
Shocking fact: Drummer Don Stevenson's (center) middle finger was airbrushed out on later pressings.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Electric Ladyland, 1968
Shocking fact: The British release featured a bevy of naked women on the cover.

John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, 1968
Shocking fact: Distributors covered the explicit content — nude front and back portraits of Lennon and Ono — in brown paper. Even today, full frontal nudity remains objectionable for many.

The Rolling Stones
Beggars Banquet, 1968
Shocking fact: The band's U.S. and UK labels originally rejected the cover featuring a toilet and graffiti-covered bathroom wall. Today, the cover seems remarkably tame.

Blind Faith
Blind Faith, 1969
Shocking fact: The original cover featured a young nude girl holding a small plane. The replacement cover featured a shot of the band.

David Bowie
Diamond Dogs, 1974
Shocking fact: The cover illustration of Bowie as a (noticeably male) dog had the offending organs edited out.

Ohio Players
Honey, 1975
Shocking fact: The sexually suggestive cover features Playboy Playmate Ester Cordet swallowing honey from a spoon.

Jane's Addiction
Nothing's Shocking, 1988
Shocking fact: An ironic twist to the list. This artsy cover depicts a realistic sculpture, created by frontman Perry Farrell, featuring nude conjoined twins with hair afire.

Millie Jackson
Back To The S*!, 1989
Shocking fact: The take-no-prisoners soul singer poses on a toilet seat with one shoe off while grimacing. Often called the worst album cover ever.

The Black Crowes
Amorica, 1994
Shocking fact: Original cover featured an American flag-printed G-string showing pubic hair.


DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Samantha Smith and John Legend

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images


DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle and John Legend take home Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2020 - 09:05 am

DJ Khaled, featuring Nipsey Hussle and John Legend, has won Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Higher" at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards. The single was featured on DJ Khaled's 2019 album Father of Asahd and featured Hussle's vocals and Legend on the piano. DJ Khaled predicted the track would win a GRAMMY.

"I even told him, 'We're going to win a GRAMMY.' Because that's how I feel about my album," DJ Khaled told Billboard. "I really feel like not only is this my biggest, this is very special."

After the release of the song and music video -- which was filmed before Hussle's death in March -- DJ Khaled announced all proceeds from "Higher" will go to Hussle's children.

DJ Khaled and co. beat out fellow category nominees Lil Baby & Gunna ("Drip Too Hard"), Lil Nas X ("Panini"), Mustard featuring Roddy Ricch ("Ballin") and Young Thug featuring J. Cole & Travis Scott ("The London"). Hussle earned a second posthumous award at the 62nd GRAMMYs for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle." 

Along with Legend and DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG paid tribute to Hussle during the telecast, which concluded with "Higher."

Check out the complete 62nd GRAMMY Awards nominees and winners list here.


Jackson Tops Dead Earners List

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Jackson Tops Dead Earners List
GRAMMY winner and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Michael Jackson topped Forbes' annual list of top-earning dead celebrities with $275 million, earning more than the combined total of the other 12 celebrities on the list. Elvis Presley ranked second with $60 million, John Lennon placed fifth with $17 million and Jimi Hendrix tied for 11th place with $6 million. Forbes compiled the list based on gross earnings between October 2009 and October 2010. (10/26)

UK Arts Council Announces Budget Cut Plans
Following a previous report, Arts Council England has revealed plans to implement the 30 percent cut to the UK's arts funding budget. The cuts will include a 7 percent cash cut for UK arts organizations in 2011–2012, a 15 percent cut for the regular funding of arts organizations by 2014–2015 and a 50 percent reduction to the council's operating costs. (10/26)

GRAMMY Winners To Perform At World Series
GRAMMY winners Kelly Clarkson, Lady Antebellum and John Legend are scheduled to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" during Major League Baseball's 2010 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers. Legend and Lady Antebellum will perform at games one and two in San Francisco on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, respectively, and Clarkson will perform at game three on Oct. 30 in Arlington, Texas. (10/26)