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Inside GRAMMIUM: How The Bulova GRAMMY Timepieces Combine High Engineering With NYC Attitude To Create An Emotional Connection To Music And Fashion
Bulova: Bold At Heart

interview

Inside GRAMMIUM: How The Bulova GRAMMY Timepieces Combine High Engineering With NYC Attitude To Create An Emotional Connection To Music And Fashion

What do music and timepieces have in common? A heck of a lot — and it has a lot to do with emotional resonance and how we relate to one other. Michael Benavente, managing director of Bulova, illuminates the timepiece company’s longtime GRAMMY partnership.

GRAMMYs/Mar 31, 2022 - 04:47 pm

Michael Benavente is a ravenous music lover, digging everyone from AC/DC to Adele. But as the managing director of Bulova, the premier timepiece company, and someone who’s not a musician, he's honest with himself about one possibility. 

"I'll never be near a GRAMMY ever in my life," he asserts. "But this gives me an opportunity to have a piece of a GRAMMY on my wrist."

What's he referring to? A resplendent collection of watches Bulova has crafted in partnership with the Recording Academy. How is it a "piece of a GRAMMY," though? 

On the dial of each of these watches, the gold alloy you see is GRAMMIUM — the very material from which GRAMMY Awards are made. Obviously, music and fashion go hand-in-hand, but Benavente argues there's something deeper at play here.

"The emotional connection is really, really strong," he says, speaking both of a cherished song and an inherited timepiece from a loved one. Maybe they fire up the same neurons after all — and that's the heart and soul of the years-long partnership between the Recording Academy and Bulova.

GRAMMY.com spoke with Benavente about his musical roots, why Bulova chose to partner with the Recording Academy, and what he's most looking forward to at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, April 3.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What inspired this partnership between Bulova and the Recording Academy?

We have a history with music. We were the first radio commercial ever. We were the creators of the clock radio. We went on to be the first television commercial ever. So, our tagline has been "A History Of Firsts" for the last seven years. Actually, it just evolved into "Bold At Heart," which is a new campaign starting now. 

But it was "A History Of Firsts" because we had a lot of firsts in the brand, whether in the product or in marketing and communications. When we were looking for a marketing platform seven years ago, music was really obvious for us to want to be involved in. 

In a previous life with another brand, I had a relationship with the Recording Academy, so that made it that much easier to engage. So, it's been seven years together! 

The golden gramophone is an internationally recognized symbol. How did Bulova fold the look and feel of the GRAMMY Award into the design?

For whatever collaborations we do, we really study hard — the icons and symbols. In this case, it was important for us to incorporate the gramophone and the gold and subtle details of the GRAMMYs into our timepieces. 

I think the last iteration of the watch we created really ties the two together in that we're using actual GRAMMIUM, which is the material the gramophone statuettes are made of. The GRAMMIUM is on the dial of the watch. 

So, I like to say that I'll never be near a GRAMMY ever in my life, but this gives me an opportunity to have a piece of a GRAMMY on my wrist.

What exactly is GRAMMIUM?

It's an alloy. Actually, a gentleman [in Colorado, John Billings] creates the statuettes from GRAMMIUM for the GRAMMYs every year, exclusively. So, we get the GRAMMIUM from him and ship it to our facilities, where we create the dials.

What can you tell me about the specific features of these timepieces?

We have a couple of different iterations that are in the GRAMMY collection. We're also partnered with the Latin GRAMMYs, so we have a relationship with them as well. But for the GRAMMYs, we have several different watches.

When we introduce a new watch, we like to keep the prior ones — assuming they're still selling well, and doing well — so we have a whole collection. So, we have quartz watches, which are watches that require a battery, but they're super-accurate. 

We also have automatic — or self-winding — watches, which don't require any energy other than the movement of your arm. So, as long as you wear the watch, it's winding itself and keeping pretty accurate time. 

If you put the watch down for two or three days, it'll lose all its energy because you're not wearing it, but it's super easy to just wind it up again and start using it, and you're back in business.

We have a little bit of everything in the collection, so we touch several different price points — medium to high, let's say — and different types of movements. Someone who's looking for a timepiece may not want a quartz watch, or vice versa; they may not want an automatic watch. So, we try to give options.

Can you give some insight on how they're made? I'm sure it's an elaborate and fascinating process.

It is. Our GRAMMY-version watches are made in Japan. Our holding, or parent, company is Citizen Watch America. They purchased Bulova about 12 years ago. We're part of that group, and what's great about that relationship is that they have big manufacturing facilities in Japan.

We also have a design studio in New York. So, we kind of marry the worlds of high engineering, and we have the heart and soul of the brand, which is in New York. Bulova has been in New York for 147 years uninterrupted, which I think is always the coolest part of the story.

So, you get that New York-U.S. attitude in the design and development, and we get that great Japanese engineering.

How do you connect your early love of music to your current role as managing director of Bulova?

For me, music is such an emotional communication tool. Of our senses, smell is number one in terms of triggering a memory. They say you can smell something you haven't smelled in 30 years, you come back in contact with that odor, and you're right back to where you were that time.

Music's not that different. Maybe it's not as powerful as scent, but pretty close. You can always remember a song you heard 20, 30 years ago. Sometimes, you remember exactly where you were, who you were with, what you were doing. The emotional connection is really, really strong.

For us, in the timepiece/watch business, I like to say we're not selling watches anymore as a utilitarian item because nobody really needs a watch to tell time. There are 100 gadgets probably within our arm's length that will tell you the time. 

But people choose to wear a watch today for that emotional connection. Sometimes, it's handed down from generation to generation. Sometimes, someone wants to buy a new watch to start a new tradition. They may want to hand it down to their son, daughter, friend — or gift it. Music adds that extra layer to that emotional connection.

What's your strategy to get music fans interested in these elegant timepieces?

We've done a lot of work with the GRAMMYs over the years. Part of this collaboration is through activations. Certainly, we're official partners as well in terms of timekeeping, so we're on the website. We count down to the evening, so our countdown clock is there.

We activate, really, 365 [days per year], although GRAMMY Week is one week and GRAMMY night is one night. We're activating year-round. We have more than 6,000 points of sale in the United States, so we have a pretty wide distribution in which we're communicating the GRAMMY message every day — whether through sales associates in stores or our digital flagship at Bulova.com.

We use a lot of different channels to communicate the relationship between Bulova and the GRAMMYs.

What are you listening to lately?

I'm a very eclectic listener. I listen to a broad range of craziness. [Laughs.] I've been listening to the new Adele album. I thought that was quite interesting from her. She sounds really good. We have a Sinatra collaboration we started three or four years ago, so I've been listening to a lot of Frank and Tony Bennett lately.

And then I can weird you out and start listening to some AC/DC. I'm a big Rush fan. I really am all over the place.

What are you personally excited about regarding the 2022 GRAMMYs?

I'm looking forward to getting everybody back together at [MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas]. Unfortunately, I can't make it this year; this will be the first [GRAMMYs] I've missed in quite a long time. But we are sending some other folks from our team, so I'm excited for them to be able to see everybody back together again.

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Mayor Of Los Angeles Karen Bass To Give Keynote Address At 25th Annual Entertainment Law Initiative During 2023 GRAMMY Week Event
(L to R): Peter Paterno, Mayor of Los Angeles Karen Bass, and Aron Lichtshein

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Mayor Of Los Angeles Karen Bass To Give Keynote Address At 25th Annual Entertainment Law Initiative During 2023 GRAMMY Week Event

The Recording Academy Entertainment Law Initiative will welcome Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass as the keynote speaker for its annual GRAMMY Week Event.

GRAMMYs/Jan 20, 2023 - 02:00 pm

Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy Entertainment Law Initiative will welcome Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass as the keynote speaker for its annual GRAMMY Week Event. Mayor Bass will join leaders in the legal and creative communities at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Fri, Feb. 3, as they celebrate the work of their peers and the year-round efforts of the Entertainment Law Initiative, which aims to encourage discussion and debate around the impact of legal affairs on the music industry.

"We are honored to welcome Mayor Karen Bass to the ELI GRAMMY Week Event as we gather and celebrate with the trailblazing professionals and students who are paving the way forward in the entertainment law industry," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. said. "Mayor Bass has been a longtime supporter of music creators' rights in her legislative roles, and she has a unique understanding of how the creative industries intersect with law and policy that we look forward to hearing at this year's event."

"I'm proud to support GRAMMY Week because of the role that our entertainment industry plays in powering our local economy and to encourage efforts to increase equity and opportunities for Angelenos to break into the music business," Mayor Bass said.

Mayor Bass was sworn in as L.A.'s mayor on Dec. 11, 2022, after representing California's 33rd Congressional District from 2011 to 2013 and its 37th Congressional District from 2013 to 2022 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Between 2004 and 2010, she served in the California State Assembly and was elected as Speaker in 2008. 

The event will also honor the winner and runners-up of the Entertainment Law Initiative Writing Contest, co-sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA). The contest challenges students in Juris Doctorate and Master of Laws programs at U.S. law schools to research a pressing legal issue facing the modern music industry and outline a proposed solution in a 3,000-word essay. The winner of this year's Writing Contest is Aron Lichtschein, a JD student at NYU School of Law, for his essay, "Tickets to Ride: NFTs and the Future of Concert Ticketing." Lichtschein will receive a $10,000 scholarship as well as tickets to the 2023 GRAMMY Awards and other GRAMMY Week events. As well, his essay will be published in the ABA's journal Entertainment & Sports Lawyer. Runners-up Gina Maeng and Amanda Sharp, students at Georgetown Law School and University of San Diego School of Law, respectively, will each receive $2,500 scholarships for their essays.

The Recording Academy announced last month that Peter T. Paterno, Partner at King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, LLP, will receive the 2023 Entertainment Law Initiative Service Award at the ELI GRAMMY Week Event; the award is presented each year to an attorney who has demonstrated a commitment to advancing and supporting the music community through service. 

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Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist

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Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist

The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.

GRAMMYs/Jan 6, 2023 - 12:17 am

Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!

The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.

Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.

So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.

Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.

About GRAMMY U:

GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.     

Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.

As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.

Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.

10 Finalists Announced For The 2023 Music Educator Award
2023 Music Educator Award Finalists

Graphic by the GRAMMY Museum

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10 Finalists Announced For The 2023 Music Educator Award

A total of 10 music teachers have been selected as finalists for the the 2023 Music Educator Award, presented by the Recording Academy and GRAMMY Museum, which recognizes educators who have made a significant contribution to the music education field.

GRAMMYs/Dec 19, 2022 - 02:00 pm

A total of 10 music teachers have been announced as finalists for the 2023 Music Educator Award, presented by the Recording Academy and GRAMMY Museum. The finalists, who come from 10 cities across eight states, were selected from more than 1,205 initial nominations, which were submitted from 47 states. Semifinalists were announced in October and quarterfinalists were announced in June.

The annual Music Educator Award recognizes current educators who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the music education field and demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools. The recipient will be recognized during GRAMMY Week 2023, which takes place ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 65th GRAMMY Awards.

Read More: Meet The 2022 Music Educator Award Recipient: Stephen Cox On His Philosophies & Strategies For Teaching

Each year, one recipient is selected from 10 finalists and recognized for their remarkable impact on students' lives. The final honoree will receive a $10,000 honorarium and matching grant for their school's music program. The nine additional finalists will receive a $1,000 honorarium and matching grants. The remaining 15 semifinalists will receive a $500 honorarium with matching school grants.

The Music Educator Award is open to current U.S. music teachers, and anyone can nominate a teacher — students, parents, friends, colleagues, community members, school deans, and administrators; teachers are also able to nominate themselves. Nominated teachers are notified and invited to fill out an application.

The matching grants provided to the schools are made possible by the generosity and support of the GRAMMY Museum's Education Champion Ford Motor Company Fund. In addition, the American Choral Directors Association, National Association for Music Education, NAMM Foundation, and National Education Association support this program through outreach to their constituencies.

Nominations for the 2024 Music Educator Award are now open.

Learn more about the Music Educator Award. 

See the full list of the 2023 Music Educator Award finalists below:

Name School Name City State
Phil Aguglia Kenmore East High School Tonawanda New York
Ernesta Chicklowski Roosevelt Elementary Tampa Florida
Pamela Dawson DeSoto High School DeSoto Texas
Antoine Dolberry P.S. 103 Hector Fontanez School Bronx New York
Jack A. Eaddy, Jr. Western Carolina University Cullowhee North Carolina
Marisa Frank Explore! Community School Nashville Tennessee
Trevor Nicholas Senn Arts at Nicholas Senn High School Chicago Illinois
Matthew Shephard Meridian Early College High School Sanford Michigan
Tony Small Pallotti Arts Academy Laurel  Maryland
Alice Tsui New Bridges Elementary Brooklyn New York

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

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 

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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 GRAMMY.com'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

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

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.

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