Life-Changing Recordings: Blanton Alspaugh
Blanton Alspaugh

Photo: Lester Cohen/


Life-Changing Recordings: Blanton Alspaugh

GRAMMY-winning classical producer reveals the Mahler symphony that stretched his musical boundaries

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(Every artist has a soundtrack that reveals their musical journey. But what is the one recording that proved to be a transformative moment? In this ongoing series, GRAMMY-winning and -nominated artists will reveal their answer to the deceptively difficult question: What recording changed your life?)

Mahler: Symphony No. 3 In D Minor
Leonard Bernstein cond. New York Philharmonic (1962)

"I heard [Mahler's Symphony No. 3] the first time when I was a freshman [at Tennessee Technology University]. It did the most to get my attention and blow out the boundaries of what was possible in music.

"It was one of those [recordings] that [opened] up a whole new range of possibilities that hadn't even occurred to me in terms of how an orchestra could sound, what you could do with one and simply the scale and the architecture of a piece like that. The first movement, at the time, extended past the limits of a single side of an LP. So it was just bigger than anything I had encountered before.

"It was certainly the composition itself that had a great deal to do with [its impact on me]. I'd sit in the music library with the recording and the score. I'd look at it, and try to absorb all that was going on. But also, it was clearly the recording and the performance [that] impacted me. Who [interpreted] Mahler more passionately and better than Leonard Bernstein? He was one of the conductors, possibly the conductor, who brought Mahler to the forefront.

"I was a trombone player in college at the time. My plan, as far as I had thought it out, was that I wanted to be a high school band director. So I was playing trombone exclusively in the band world and encountering a lot of symphonic music for the first time. There's that great trombone solo in the first movement, and as a trombone player that was one of those things I listened to and thought, 'Wow, could I ever play like that?'

"So it kind of lit a fire under me and [got] me thinking about music and a career in completely different terms. I couldn't describe it then the way I am describing it now, because at a certain point not too soon after that, I really caught the conducting bug in a serious way and ended up getting a master's degree in conducting, and trying to make a career of that, with a detour or two. I got into classical radio, which, of course, very much tied into a lifelong love affair, if you will, with recorded music. I bought records [and] I worked in a record store when I was in graduate school, one of those things a lot of musicians aspire to, if for nothing else so we can buy a lot of recordings.

"I never did get to conduct Mahler's third symphony but I did conduct some of the first and second symphonies. I did get the music out [for the third symphony] and try to play that big solo, and learn it. That's the kind of thing that will stretch a player's capabilities of, again, what's possible [and] what's necessary in order to work at a certain level."

(Blanton Alspaugh is a senior producer at Soundmirror, a Boston-based classical recording and production company. He has won four GRAMMY Awards to date, including Producer Of The Year, Classical at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards in February.)

(Paul Zollo is the senior editor of American Songwriter and the author of several books, including Songwriters On Songwriting, Conversations With Tom Petty and Hollywood Remembered. He's also a songwriter and Trough Records artist whose songs have been recorded by many artists, including Art Garfunkel, Severin Browne and Darryl Purpose.)

Life-Changing Recordings: Matt Redman
Matt Redman

Photo: Rick Diamond/


Life-Changing Recordings: Matt Redman

GRAMMY-winning contemporary Christian singer/songwriter reveals the recording that affected him as a teenager and influences his songwriting today

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(Every artist has a soundtrack that reveals their musical journey. But what is the one recording that proved to be a transformative moment? In this ongoing series, GRAMMY-winning and -nominated artists will reveal their answer to the deceptively difficult question: What recording changed your life?)

"The Living Years"
Mike & The Mechanics (1988) 

"Many records have affected my life, but one that stands out the most is 'The Living Years' by Mike & The Mechanics. It was a worldwide hit in 1989, including number one [on] Billboard in the U.S. I was 15 years old that year, and remember how moved I was by the song the very first time I heard it. I played it over and over. The vocal was incredible, the lyrical depth utterly brilliant, and I guess a kids choir on those end choruses helped tug at the heartstrings quite a bit too.

"The song spoke into some deep themes such as forgiveness and the place of a father in our lives. The story goes that the writers Mike Rutherford and BA Robertson had both lost their fathers that year, and both also had sons born to them. So the song is about redeeming any regrets they had in their relationship with their lost fathers by getting it right with their sons. One reason it struck such a chord with me is I'd lost my own dad at the age of 7, and still had lots to work through in that regard. It's interesting how music has a way of probing around in those secret places of our hearts where not much else seems to reach us.

"This record taught me a great deal about the importance of authenticity in a song. The writers weren't coming from a hypothetical place — this was a real story, straight from the heart. I've noticed the same on my own creative journey. The songs that seem to connect the best aren't just clever ideas; they've come from somewhere real, somewhere raw. Perhaps the best teacher of all is my hero King David in the Bible. What a songwriter. You could hardly find a more raw and real collection of songs than the Psalms. They have it all: angst and joy, pain and hope, confusion and peace.

"The lead vocalist on 'The Living Years' was Paul Carrack. As it turned out, Paul lived in the same little English village as me. Around the age of 20, when I was just starting out full-time in music, I got to hang out with him a bit. He was a huge encouragement, and it made a big mark on where I was headed with the songs and my heart to affect people through them. He even guested on my first record, with some backing vocals. I always felt like this was the kindness of God to me: Here was the singer of my all-time favorite song, just a stone's throw away and generous enough to input into my life at such a key time.

"Coming full circle, a few years ago I was part of an evening [performance] with the London Community Gospel Choir at Abbey Road Studios in London. Up onstage with the choir after me was Paul, singing a brilliant version of 'The Living Years.' It was the first time I'd ever heard it performed live. I was reminded once again what a powerful song it is, and what a meaningful one it has been to me."

(Matt Redman won GRAMMYs for Best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music Performance and, along with co-writer Jonas Myrin, Best Contemporary Christian Music Song for "10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)" at the 55th GRAMMY Awards, marking the first GRAMMY wins of his career. The song is the title track on Redman's 2011 album, 10,000 Reasons, which topped Billboard's Christian Albums chart.)

(Paul Zollo is the senior editor of American Songwriter and the author of several books, including Songwriters On Songwriting, Conversations With Tom Petty and Hollywood Remembered. He's also a songwriter and Trough Records artist whose songs have been recorded by many artists, including Art Garfunkel, Severin Browne and Darryl Purpose.)

Global Spin: Katerine Duska And Leon Of Athens Premiere "Babel," A Bilingual Tale Of A Love Lost In Translation
(L-R) Leon of Athens, Katerine Duska

Photo (L-R): Ria Mort, Thanos Poulimenos


Global Spin: Katerine Duska And Leon Of Athens Premiere "Babel," A Bilingual Tale Of A Love Lost In Translation

Frequent songwriting partners Katerine Duska and Leon Of Athens grapple with a relationship full of miscommunication in this emotional duet, which they debut with a powerful Global Spin performance.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2022 - 06:00 pm

"Can I love you a little more clearly?" Katerine Duska and Leon of Athens sing in the emotional chorus of their new song, "Babel." "Can we get it right? Can we talk another night away?"

In this episode of Global Spin, the two pop singers — and frequent songwriting partners — effortlessly trade off between Greek and English in a compelling performance. But as beautiful as the bilingual, harmony-driven duet may be, "Babel" chronicles a fraught relationship where, ultimately, the love gets lost in translation.

"Babel" brings the two lovers back to where they started: Frustrated and failing to see eye to eye, but still invested in one another. That narrative pairs with an equally passionate, string-filled sonic backdrop in this song, which Duska and Leon of Athens premiere on Global Spin.

The song's visual component further underscores its message. Duska and Leon of Athens perform the song from a bed, surrounded by candles and rippling water. As they wrestle through their disagreements — both lyrically and physically — the two artists make an attempt to find tenderness, but their best efforts dissolve into frustration and disconnection.

The bilingual duo have co-written several times in the past, and they're no strangers to performing together, either. Their first duet, "ANEMOS," came out in 2019; a year later, the pair released another collaboration, "Communication."

Press play on the video above to get a first look at the latest collaboration between Katerine Duska and Leon of Athens, and keep checking every Tuesday for more new episodes of Global Spin.

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Akon And Teemanay's Favorite Tour Meal Is So Iconic That It Has Its Own Festival
(L-R) Akon and Teemanay

Photo: Matteo Vincenzo (right)


Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Akon And Teemanay's Favorite Tour Meal Is So Iconic That It Has Its Own Festival

Over plates of Nigerian jollof rice, global superstar Akon and Afrobeats mainstay Teemanay explain the finer points of this staple West African dish — which is also their staple meal on the road.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2022 - 05:00 pm

When it comes to music, R&B giant Akon and rising Afrobeats star Teemanay (aka Young Icon) have a lot in common. Not only are they both from West Africa — Akon's family roots are in Senegal, while Teemanay hails from Nigeria – but the two teamed up on the four-song EP Konvict Kulture Presents Teemanay, which came out on Akon's label earlier this year.

The two acts have similar tastes when it comes to food, too — though they might disagree on the finer points. Jollof rice, a staple throughout West Africa, is a dish that both artists grew up loving, even though they hail from different countries within the region.

"For a meal, if they have jollof rice for me, I will give them an extra 15 minutes of free performance," Teemanay jokes in the newest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

"So the rice is actually smoked, almost like when you cook barbeque," Akon details, explaining what it is that makes this particular dish so special. "When you look at jollof, it ranks in the top five of those things you just can't forget. It's a part of the meal, every meal."

The dish is so essential that Akon hosts an annual Jollof, Music & Food Festival in Atlanta, which features a lineup of music and food trucks. But the pinnacle of the event is the jollof cook-off, in which recipes from different countries compete to see which region creates the best version of the dish.

"This year, Senegal won. But we kinda expect that, because Senegal is really the creators of jollof rice," Akon proudly explains, as Teemanay shakes his head in disagreement.

"I'm in a very aggressive, fighting mood right now," Teemanay shoots back with a smirk. "Nigerian jollof is the best jollof in the world."

Whichever regional version they prefer, Akon and Teemanay can agree on one thing: There's no better post-show meal or tour bus snack out there than jollof rice. 

Press play on the video above to watch the two stars duke it out over their favorite jollof, and keep checking back to for more new episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

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9 Organizations Helping Music Makers In Need: MusiCares, The GRAMMY Museum & Others

Photo: Suriyawut Suriya / EyeEm via Getty Images


9 Organizations Helping Music Makers In Need: MusiCares, The GRAMMY Museum & Others

Are you in a position to donate to musicians in a state of financial or personal crisis on this GivingTuesday? Check out these nine charitable organizations — beneath the Recording Academy umbrella and otherwise.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2022 - 03:17 pm

Imagine a world where care and concern is distributed in a holistic circuit, rather than being hoarded away or never employed at all. That's the paradigm that GivingTuesday is reaching toward.

Created in 2012 under the simple precept of being generous and celebrating generosity, GivingTuesday is a practical hub for getting involved in one's community and giving as freely to benefit and nourish others.

Since GivingTuesday has swelled not just from a single day in the calendar year, but a lens through which to view the other 364 days. You can find your local GivingTuesday network here, find ways to participate here, and find ways to join  GivingTuesday events here.

Where does the Recording Academy come in? Helping musicians in need isn't something they do on the side, an afterthought while they hand out awards.

No, aiding music people is at the core of the Academy's mission. MusiCares, the Academy's philanthropic arm, has changed innumerable lives for the better.

And through this society of music professionals and its other major components — including  Advocacy, the GRAMMY Museum and GRAMMY U — the Academy continues its fight in legislative and educational forms.

If you're willing and able to help musicians in need this GivingTuesday, here's a helpful hub of nine charitable organizations with whom you can do so.


Any list of orgs that aid musicians would be remiss to not include MusiCares.

Through the generosity of donors and volunteer professionals, this organization of committed service members has been able to aid struggling music people in three key areas: mental health and addiction recovery services, health services, and human services.

For more information on each of those, visit here. To apply for assistance, click here. And to donate to MusiCares, head here.


"Museum" might be right there in the name, but there's a lot more to this precious sector of the Recording Academy.

The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles doesn't just put on immersive exhibits that honor the legacies of musical giants; it's a hub for music education.

At press time, more than 20,000 students have visited the Museum, more than 10,000 students have participated in the Museum's Clive Davis theater, and 20,000 students have participated in their GRAMMY Camp weekends.

To donate to the GRAMMY Museum, click here. To become a member, visit here.

Give a Beat

By now, the evidence is ironclad: Giving incarcerated people access to music and art dramatically increases morale and decreases recidivism.

Give a Beat is keenly aware of this, both on direct-impact and mentorship levels.

The org hosts classes for incarcerated people, in order for them to "find healing, transformation, and empowerment" through its Prison Electronic Music Program, which helps incarcerated folks wade deep into the fields of music production and DJing.

Its On a New Track Reentry Mentoring Program initiative connects music industry professionals with formerly incarcerated individuals in order to transfer their skills into a professional setting.

To become a member of Give a Beat, click here. To donate, visit here.

Jazz Foundation of America

Despite being at the heart of American musical expression, jazz, blues and roots can sometimes feel roped off on the sidelines of the music industry — and its practitioners can slip between society's cracks.

That's where the Jazz Foundation of America comes in. They aid musicians struggling to hang onto their homes, connect physicians and specialists with uninsured artists and help musicians get back on their feet after life-upending natural disasters.

To donate to the Jazz Foundation, click here; for all other info, visit their website.

The Blues Foundation

Headquartered in Memphis, the Blues Foundation aims to preserve the history and heritage of the blues — which lies at the heart of all American forms. This goes not only for irreplaceable sites and artifacts, but the living, breathing people who continue to make it.

The Blues Foundation offers educational outreach, providing scholarships to youth performers to attend summer blues camps and workshops.

On top of that, in the early 2000s, they created the HART Fund to offer financial support to musicians in need of medical, dental, and vision care.

And for blues artists who have passed on, the HART Fund diverts money to their families  to ensure their loved ones would be guaranteed dignified funerals.

For more information on the Blues Foundation, visit here. To donate, click here.

Musicians Foundation

Founded all the way back when World War I broke out, the Musicians Foundation has spent more than a century cutting checks to musicians in times of need.

This includes financial grants to cover basic expenses, like medical and dental treatments, rents and mortgages and utilities. Submitted grant applications are reviewed by their staff and a screening committee. If approved, the money is dispatched rapidly and directly to the debtor to relieve financial pressure as soon as possible.

The Musicians Foundation's philanthropic legacy is enshrined in Century of Giving, a comprehensive analysis of financial aid granted to musicians and their families by the Foundation since 1914.

For more information, visit here; click here to donate.

Music Maker Foundation

Based in North Carolina, the Music Maker Foundation tends to the day-to-day needs of American roots artists — helping them negotiate crises so they can "keep roofs over their heads, food on their tables, [and] instruments in their hands."

This relief comes in the forms of basic sustenance, resources performance (like booking venues and providing CDs to sell) and spreading education about their contributions to the American roots canon.

Check out their website for more information; to donate, click here.

Sweet Relief: Musicians Fund

When music people are in danger, this charitable organization sees no barriers of genre, region or nature of crisis.

If you're a musician suffering from physical, mental or financial hardship — whether it be due to a disability, an affliction like cancer, or anything else — Sweet Relief has got your back.

There are numerous ways to support Sweet Relief; you can become a partner, intern or volunteer, or simply chip in a few bucks for one of their various funds to keep their selfless work moving.

For any and all further information, visit their website.

Music Workers Alliance

The Recording Academy's concern and consideration for music people hardly stops at musicians — they're here to support all music people.

They share this operating principle with Music Workers Alliance, which tirelessly labors to ensure music people are treated like they matter — and are fairly remunerated for their efforts.

This takes many forms, like fighting for music workers at the federal, state and city level for access to benefits and fair protections, and ensuring economic justice and fair working conditions.

Music Workers Alliance also fights for economic justice on the digital plane, and aims to provide equal access for people of color and other underrepresented groups in the industry.

For more info, visit their website; for ways to get involved, click here.

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