Photo: Douglas Mason/Getty Images
Newport Folk Festival 2022 Recap: Taj Mahal, Brandi Carlile With Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon & A Crowdsurfing Singer
After taking two years off from their normal format, Newport Folk Festival returned with much heart. From Rhiannon Giddens' soul-stirring performance to special guest appearances by Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell, GRAMMY.com recaps three days of joy.
Newport Folk Festival is so much more than just another music event. At its heart, it's actually a family reunion — both on stage and off — with moments you simply will not experience anywhere else. As Christopher Capotosto, the festival's chief creative officer told GRAMMY.com, "We don't make the magic that is Newport; the artists do that."
But the Newport team does make and hold the sacred space to foster that magic. The artists know that, and so does the audience. And, after taking two years off from their normal format due to the pandemic, the 2022 Newport Folk Festival was as magic-filled as ever. Here are some highlights:
The Living Legends
Newport came out blazing by giving Lee Fields the first Fort Stage set of the weekend. Reminding the 10,000 folkies in attendance why he's nicknamed "Little JB," the legendary soul man worked through songs from across his 53-year career, being sure to touch on his latest single, "Ordinary Lives."
At one point, he seemed to sing so hard that his mic cable detached. Pro that he is, Fields quickly sorted it out and got right back to asking the crowd, "Where's the party?" while he scanned the sea of revelers dancing before him.
Later in the day, Taj Mahal returned to Newport’s Fort Stage for the first time in 34 years. Like Fields, Mahal proved that he's still got it, as he treated the audience to classics like "Queen Bee" and "Corinna." Although Mahal has been singing his hits for seven decades now, they never get old.
Even though Newport Folk Festival is known for far more than folk, singer/songwriters still stand at the heart of the event. This year, that torch was held high by Anaïs Mitchell, John Craigie, Madi Diaz and the Dead Tongues, each of whom brought new releases to vibrant, beautiful and occasionally hilarious life.
Mitchell was also supposed to perform with Bonny Light Horseman, but the band had to cancel their set a couple of days prior. In its stead, Mitchell led "Clusterfolk," with Natalie Merchant, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Lukas Nelson, Robert Ellis, and others all chipping in with a song or, in Merchant's case, "Legacy artists get two songs," Merchant said, much to the delight of the Quad Stage's packed house.
Friday's audience at the Quad Stage witnessed two incredibly special performances. First, Arooj Aftab blended stunning art and sardonic wit with songs from her gorgeous Vulture Prince album. The Pakistani singer (whose songs are primarily in Urdu) told the captivated crowd, "These songs are about being drunk and not in love, in case you couldn't tell." Aftab closed her utterly mesmerizing set with "Mohabbat," her 2022 GRAMMY-winning "banger," as she likes to call it.
Rhiannon Giddens and the Silk Road Ensemble took to the same stage a few hours later and owned the day with their rendition of "O Death." It was hard to know how they could follow themselves after that opener, but the group somehow continued to raise the musical bar, with each ensemble member having moments to shine.
The Rabble Rousers
If Rhiannon Giddens won Friday, Adia Victoria made an early case for her own victory on Saturday. Victoria set the Fort Stage ablaze with a blistering set that sparked off with "Far From Dixie" and went on to include more from her stellar A Southern Gothic album. This might've also been the only performance of the weekend that included a crowd surfing singer.
Joy Oladokun moved mountains of emotions during her time on the Quad Stage Sunday afternoon, introducing "I See America" with a teary speech about how it's simply not okay that trans and queer kids are no longer safe in this country. But Oladokun didn't just leave it there, she channeled her rage against the right-wing machine, moving from "I See America" directly into a bit of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," her fans responding in appropriate grunge fashion by bouncing up and down.
The Soul Restorers
Sunday morning started strong with a Spiritual Helpline Gospel Revue curated and led by Phil Cook with the Guitarheels plus special guests Sister Lena Mae Perry (who is 83 years old), Thomas Rhyant, the Union (Leslie Gardner and Simone Appleby), and others
Cook met these astounding gospel singers in North Carolina and is working with them to release live records through his indie label. And live is most definitely how they should be experienced. After a thoroughly rousing set that included gospel classics like "You’ve Got A Friend/Precious Lord" and "I Don't Feel Noways Tired," the group invited some onlookers (Natalie Merchant and Valerie June, among them) to join for the soul-giving finale of "This Little Light of Mine." To borrow from Cook, everyone left that performance feeling better than they did before it.
The Surprise Guests
The closing sets on Saturday and Sunday of every Newport Folk Festival famously include special surprise guests that attendees spend their weekend trying to surmise. This year, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats recruited Paul Simon to make his Newport debut by joining their American Tune Revue (which also featured Marcus Mumford, Lee Fields, Courtney Marie Andrews, Lukas Nelson, Adia Victoria, Natalie Merchant, and others).
Together, the group thrilled the crowd with Simon classics like "Cecilia," "You Can Call Me Al," "Homeward Bound" and many more. Simon then joined the band for "Graceland," before duetting with Rhiannon Giddens on an updated version of "American Tune." Against a glorious Newport sunset, a solo Simon closed the evening with "The Sound of Silence."
It's hard to imagine that Brandi Carlile could somehow match that magic on Sunday night, but she darn well did by bringing Joni Mitchell to Newport for the first time since 1969. Along with Wynonna, Taylor Goldsmith, Celisse, Allison Russell, Sista Strings, Lucius and others, Carlile recreated the "Joni Jams" which she has been organizing at Joni's house for the past few years. The musicians all sat in a semicircle with Mitchell at the summit sporting a glass of wine and a huge smile. Everyone took turns — Mitchell included — singing songs from her catalog, along with a few standards.
Mitchell eased into it all, singing a line here and there, eventually playing an instrumental version of "Just Like This Train," which Carlile proclaimed was her best attempt yet. Before the night had ended, the stunned audience had heard "Both Sides Now," "Come in from the Cold," "A Case of You," “Carey” and "The Circle Game," among others, from one of the most brilliant artists of our time who, very likely, was responsible for introducing so many to folk music in the first place.
Photo: ZIK Images/United Archives via Getty Images
15 Reissues And Archival Releases For Your Holiday Shopping List
2023 was a banner year for reissues and boxed sets; everyone from the Beatles to Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones got inspired expansions and repackagings. Here are 15 more to scoop up before 2023 gives way to 2024.
Across 2023, we've been treated to a shower of fantastic reissues, remixes and/or expansions. From the Beatles' Red and Blue albums, to Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, to the Who's Who's Next, the list is far too massive to fit into a single article.
And, happily, it's not over yet: from now until Christmas, there are plenty more reissues to savor — whether they be mere vinyl represses, or lavish plumbings of the source material replete with outtakes.
As you prepare your holiday shopping list, don't sleep on these 15 reissues for the fellow music fanatic in your life — or pick up a bundle for yourself!
X-Ray Spex - Conscious Consumer (Vinyl Reissue)
Whether you view them through the lens of Black woman power or simply their unforgettable, snarling anthems, English punks X-Ray Spex made an indelible mark with their debut 1978 album, Germfree Adolescents.
Seventeen years later, they made a less-discussed reunion album, 1995's Conscious Consumer — which has been unavailable over the next 27 years. After you (re)visit Germfree Adolescents, pick up this special vinyl reissue, remastered from the original tape.
That's out Dec. 15; pre-order it here.
Fall Out Boy - Take This to Your Grave (20th Anniversary Edition)
Released the year before their breakthrough 2005 album From Under the Cork Tree — the one with "Dance, Dance" and "Sugar, We're Goin Down" on it — Fall Out Boy's Take This to Your Grave remains notable and earwormy. The 2004 album aged rather well, and contains fan favorites like "Dead on Arrival."
Revisit the two-time GRAMMY nominees' Myspace-era gem with its 20th anniversary edition, which features a 36-page coffee table book and two unreleased demos: "Colorado Song" and "Jakus Song." It's available Dec. 15.
Coheed and Cambria - Live at the Starland Ballroom
Coheed and Cambria is more than a long-running rock band; they're a sci-fi multimedia universe, as well as a preternaturally tight live band.
Proof positive of the latter is Live at the Starland Ballroom, a document of a performance at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey, in 2004 — that hasn't been on vinyl until now. Grab it here; it dropped Nov. 24, for Record Store Day Black Friday.
Joni Mitchell - Court and Spark Demos
Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 3: The Asylum Years (1972–1975), from last October, is a terrific way to do just that; its unvarnished alternate versions strip away the '70s gloss to spellbinding effect.
Which is no exception regarding the Court and Spark demos, which got a standalone release for RSD Black Friday.
P!NK - TRUSTFALL (Deluxe Edition)
The dependable Pink returned in 2023 with the well-regarded TRUSTFALL, and it's already getting an expanded presentation.
Its Deluxe Edition is filled with six previously unheard live recordings from her 2023 Summer Carnival Stadium Tour. Therein, you can find two new singles, including "Dreaming," a collaboration with Marshmello and Sting. Pre-order it today.
Snoop Dogg - Doggystyle (30th Anniversary Edition)
After his star-making turn on Dr. Dre's The Chronic, 16-time GRAMMY nominee Snoop Dogg stepped out with his revolutionary, Dre-assisted debut album, Doggystyle.
Permeated with hedonistic, debaucherous fun, the 1993 classic only furthered G-funk's momentum as a force within hip-hop.
Revisit — or discover — the album via this 30-year anniversary reissue, available now on streaming and vinyl.
As per the latter, the record is available special color variants, including a gold foil cover and clear/cloudy blue vinyl via Walmart, a clear and black smoke vinyl via Amazon and a green and black smoke vinyl via indie retailers.
Alicia Keys - The Diary of Alicia Keys 20
Alicia Keys has scored an incredible 15 GRAMMYs and 31 nominations — and if that run didn't exactly begin with 2003's The Diary of Alicia Keys, that album certainly cemented her royalty.
Her heralded second album, which features classics like "Karma," "If I Was Your Woman"/"Walk On By" and "Diary," is being reissued on Dec. 1 — expanded to 24 tracks, and featuring an unreleased song, "Golden Child."
The Sound of Music (Super Deluxe Edition Boxed Set)
Fifty-seven years has done nothing to dim the appeal of 1965's The Sound of Music — both the flick and its indelible soundtrack.
Re-immerse yourself in classics like "My Favorite Things" via The Sound of Music (Super Deluxe Edition Boxed Set), which arrives Dec. 1.
The box contains more than 40 previously unreleased tracks, collecting every musical element from the film for the first time, along with instrumentals for every song, demos and rare outtakes from the cast.
Furthermore, an audio Blu-ray features the full score in hi-res plus a new Dolby Atmos mix of the original soundtrack. And the whole shebang is housed in a 64-page hardbound book with liner notes from film preservationist Mike Matessino.
ABBA - The Visitors (Deluxe Edition)
With their eighth album, 1981's The Visitors, the Swedish masterminds — and five-time GRAMMY nominees — stepped away from lighter fare and examined themselves more deeply than ever.
The result was heralded as their most mature album to date — and has been repackaged before, with a Deluxe Edition in 2012.
This (quite belated) 40th anniversary edition continues its evolution in the marketplace. And better late than never: The Visitors was their final album until their 2021 farewell, Voyage, and on those terms alone, deserves reexamination.
Aretha Franklin - A Portrait of the Queen 1970-1974
A Portrait of the Queen 1970-1974 compiles her first five albums of the 1970s: This Girl's In Love With You, Spirit in the Dark, Young Gifted and Black, Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky), and Let Me In Your Life.
Each has been remastered from the analog master tapes. The vinyl version has a bonus disc of session alternates, outtakes & demos. Both CD and vinyl versions are packaged with booklets featuring sleeve notes by Gail Mitchell and David Nathan. Grab it on Dec. 1.
Fela Kuti - Box Set #6
From the great beyond, Fela Kuti has done music journalists a solid in simply numbering his boxes. But this isn't just any Kuti box: it's curated by the one and only Idris Elba, who turned in a monumental performance as Stringer Bell on "The Wire."
The fifth go-round contains the Afrobeat giant's albums Open & Close, Music of Many Colors, Stalemate, I Go Shout Plenty!!!, Live In Amsterdam (2xLP), and Opposite People. It includes a 24 page booklet featuring lyrics, commentaries by Afrobeat historian Chris May, and never-before-seen photos.
The box is only available in a limited edition of 5,000 worldwide, so act fast: it's also available on Dec. 1.
Kate Bush - Hounds of Love (The Baskerville Edition) / Hounds of Love (The Boxes of Lost Sea)
Kate Bush rocketed back into the public consciousness in 2022, via "Stranger Things." The lovefest continues unabated with these two editions of Hounds of Love, which features that signature song: "Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God.)
The Rolling Stones - December's Children (And Everybody's), Got Live If You Want It! And The Rolling Stones No. 2 (Vinyl Reissues)
These three '60s Stones albums have slipped between the cracks over the years — but if you love the world-renowned rock legends in its infancy, they're essential listens.
No. 2 is their second album from 1965; the same year's December's Children is the last of their early songs to lean heavily on covers; Got Live If You Want It! is an early live document capturing the early hysteria swarming around the band.
On Dec. 1, they're reissued on 180g vinyl; for more information and to order, visit here.
Pink Floyd - Atom Heart Mother (Special Edition)
No, it's not half as famous as The Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall — but 1970's lumpy Atom Heart Mother certainly has its partisans.
Rediscover a hidden corner of the Floyd catalog — the one between Ummagumma and Meddle — via this special edition, which features newly discovered live footage from more than half a century ago.
The Black Crowes - The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
After endless fraternal infighting, the Black Crowes are back — can they keep it together?
In the meantime, their second album, 1992's The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, remains a stellar slice of roots rock — as a sprawling, three-disc Super Deluxe Edition bears out. If you're a bird of this feather, don't miss it when it arrives on Dec. 15.
Photo: David Redfern/Redferns
10 Lesser-Known Joni Mitchell Songs You Need To Hear
In celebration of Joni Mitchell's 80th birthday, here are 10 essential deep cuts from the nine-time GRAMMY winner and MusiCares Person Of The Year.
Having rebounded from a 2015 aneurysm, the nine-time GRAMMY winner and 17-time nominee has made a thrilling and inspiring return to the stage. Many of us have seen the images of Mitchell, enthroned in a mockup of her living room, exuding a regal air, clutching a wolf’s-head cane.
Again, this adulation is apt. But adulation can have a flattening effect, especially for those new to this colossal artist. At the MusiCares Person Of The Year event honoring Mitchell ahead of the 2022 GRAMMYs, concert curators Jon Batiste — and Mitchell ambassador Brandi Carlile — illustrated the breadth of her Miles Davis-esque trajectory, of innovation after innovation.
At the three-hour, star-studded bash, the audience got "The Circle Game" and "Big Yellow Taxi" and the other crowd pleasers. But there were also cuts from Hejira and Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter and Night Ride Home, and other dark horses. There were selections that even eluded this Mitchell fan’s knowledge, like "Urge for Going." Batiste and Carlile did their homework.
But what of the general listening public — do they grasp Mitchell’s multitudes like they might her male peers, like Bob Dylan? Is her album-by-album evolution to be poured over with care and nuance, or is she Blue to you?
Of course, everyone’s entitled to commune with the greats at their own pace. However, if you’re out to plumb Mitchell’s depths beyond a superficial level, her 80th birthday — which falls on Nov. 8 — is the perfect time to get to know this still-underrated singer/songwriter legend better. Here are 10 deeper Mitchell cuts to start that journey, into this woman of heart and mind.
"The Gallery" (Clouds, 1969)
Mitchell blew everyone’s minds when David Crosby discovered her in a small club in South Florida. Her 1968 debut, Song to a Seagull, contains key songs from that initial flashpoint, like "Michael from Mountains" and "The Dawntreader."
Mitchell’s artistic vision truly coalesced on her second album, Clouds. Although the production is a little wan and bare-boned, Clouds contains a handful of all-time classics, including "Chelsea Morning," "The Fiddle and the Drum" and the epochal "Both Sides, Now."
That said, "The Gallery," which kicks off side two, belongs at the top of the heap. There remain rumblings that it’s about Leonard Cohen. But whatever the case, Mitchell’s excoriating burst of a pretentious cad’s bubble ("And now you're flying back this way/ Like some lost homing pigeon/ They've monitored your brain, you say/ And changed you with religion") remains incisive, with a gorgeous melody to boot.
(And, it must be said: "That Song About the Midway," also found on Clouds, is a kiss-off to Croz, whom she enjoyed a fleeting fling with and a must-hear.)
"Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" (For the Roses, 1972)
If you think you’ve got a grasp of Mitchell’s early talents, a new archival release proves they were more prodigious than you could imagine.
Joni Mitchell Archives, Vol. 3: The Asylum Years (1972-1975) kicks off with a solo version of "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire." And as great as the studio version is, from 1972’s For the Roses, this version, from a session with Crosby and Graham Nash, arguably eats its lunch.
While Neil Young’s "The Needle and the Damage Done" has proved to be the epochal junkie-warning song of the 1970s, Mitchell’s song about the same subject easily goes toe to toe with it.
Images like "Pawn shops crisscrossed and padlocked/ Corridors spit on prayers and pleas" and "Red water in the bathroom sink/ Fever and the scum brown bowl" are quietly harrowing. Via Mitchell’s acoustic guitar, they’re underpinned by downcast, harmonically teeming blues.
"Sweet Bird" (The Hissing of Summer Lawns, 1975)
The Hissing of Summer Lawns is an unquestionable masterstroke of Mitchell’s fusion era.
Highlights are genuinely everywhere within Lawns — from the swinging and swaying "In France They Kiss on Main Street," to the Dr. Dre-predicting "The Jungle Line," to the title track, a hallucinatory lament for a trophy wife.
But amid these manifold high points, don’t miss "Sweet Bird," the penultimate track on The Hissing of Summer Lawns, tucked between "Harry’s House/Centerpiece" and "Shadows and Light."
"Give me some time/ I feel like I'm losing mine/ Out here on this horizon line," Mitchell sings through her dusky soprano, as the ECM-like atmosphere seems to whirl heavenward. "With the earth spinning/ And the sky forever rushing/ No one knows/ They can never get that close/ Guesses at most."
"A Strange Boy" (Hejira, 1976)
Much like The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Hejira — retroactively, and rightly, canonized as one of Mitchell’s very best albums — is nearly flawless from front to back.
The highs are so high — "Amelia," "Hejira," "Refuge of the Roads" — that almost-as-good tracks might slip through the cracks. "A Strange Boy," about an airline steward with Peter Pan syndrome she briefly linked with.
"He was psychologically astute and severely adolescent at the same time," Mitchell said later. "There was something seductive and charming about his childlike qualities, but I never harbored any illusions about him being my man. He was just a big kid in the end."
As "A Strange Boil" smolders and begins to catch flame, Mitchell delivers the clincher line: "I gave him clothes and jewelry/ I gave him my warm body/ I gave him power over me."
"Otis and Marlena" (Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, 1977)
One of Mitchell’s most challenging and thorny albums, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter is one of Mitchell’s least accessible offerings from her most expressionist era. (Mitchell in blackface on the cover, as a character named Art Nouveau, doesn’t exactly grease the wheels — to put it mildly.)
But across the sprawling and head-scratching tracklisting — which includes a seven-minute percussion interlude, in "The Tenth World" — are certain tunes that belong in the Mitchell time capsule.
One is "Otis and Marlena," one of the funniest and most evocative moments on an album full of strange wonders. Mitchell paints a picture of a cheap vacation scene, rife with "rented girls" and "the grand parades of cellulite" against a "neon-mercury vapor-stained Miami sky."
And the kicker of a chorus juxtaposes this dowdy Floridan outing with the realities up north, e.g. the 1977 Hanafi Siege: "They’ve come for fun and sun," MItchell sings, "while Muslims stick up Washington."
"A Chair in the Sky" (Mingus, 1979)
While Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter is rather glowering and unwelcoming, Mingus is a cracked, cubist realm that’s fully inhabitable.
Initially conceived as a collaboration between Mitchell and four-time GRAMMY nominee Charles Mingus, it ended up being a eulogy: Mingus died before the album could be completed.
Despite its lopsided nature — it contains five spoken-word "raps," as well as a true oddity in the eerie, braying "The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey" — Mingus remains rewarding almost 45 years later. And the Mingus-composed "A Chair in the Sky," with lyrics by Mitchell, is arguably its apogee.
Like the rest of Hejira, "A Chair in the Sky" features Jaco Pastorius and Wayne Shorter from Weather Report, as well as the one and only Herbie Hancock; this ethereal, ascendant track demonstrates the magic of when this phenomenal ensemble truly gels.
"Moon at the Window" (Wild Things Run Fast, 1982)
In Mitchell’s trajectory, Wild Things Run Fast represents the conclusion of her fusion phase, in favor of a more rock-driven sound — and, with it, the sunset of her second epoch.
Following Wild Things Run Fast would be 1985’s critically panned Dog Eat Dog and 1988’s even more assailed Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm. But for every arguable misstep, like the guitar-squealing "You Dream Flat Tires," there’s a baby that shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater.
One is "Chinese Cafe/Unchained Melody," another is "Ladies’ Man," and perhaps best of all is the luminous "Moon at the Window," where bassist/husband Larry Klein and Shorter wrap Mitchell’s sumptuous lyric, and melody, in spun gold.
"Passion Play (When All the Slaves Are Free)" (Night Ride Home, 1991)
At the dawn of the grunge era, Mitchell found her way back to her atmospheric best, with the gorgeously written, performed and produced Night Ride Home.
While its follow-up, Turbulent Indigo, won the GRAMMY for Best Pop Album (and is certainly worth savoring), Night Ride Home might have more to offer those who were enraptured by the majestic Hejira, and thirsted for a continuation of its aural universe.
The equally excellent "Come in From the Cold" is the one that has ended up on Mitchell setlists in the 2020s, but "Passion Play (When All the Slaves Are Free)" is even more transportive.
Despite the early 1900s sonics, "Passion Play" feels ageless and eternal, tapped into some Jungian collective unconscious as a wizened Mitchell posits, "Who’re you going to get to do your dirty work/ When all the slaves are free?"
"No Apologies" (Taming the Tiger, 1998)
If Night Ride Home sounds less played than conjured Taming the Tiger is like the steam that twists and disperses from its broiling, potent stew.
As much ambience pervaded Night Ride Home, Hejira and the like, Taming the Tiger is the only album in Mitchell’s estimable catalog to feel ambient.
Much of this is owed to Mitchell’s employment of the Roland VG-8 virtual guitar system, which allowed her to change her byzantine guitar tunings at the push of a button; the ensuing sound is a suggestion of a guitar, which enhances Taming the Tiger’s diaphanous and ephemeral feel.
"No Apologies" is something of a centerpiece, where Mitchell sings of war and a dilapidated homeland, sailing forth on a cloud of Greg Liestz’s sonorous lap steel.
"Bad Dreams" (Shine, 2007)
Mitchell has always cast a jaundiced eye at the music industry machine, so it’s no wonder she hasn’t released a new album in 16 years. (Although, as she revealed to Rolling Stone, she’s eyeing a small-ensemble album of standards with her old mates in the jazz scene.)
But if Shine ends up being her swan song, it’d be a fine farewell. "Bad Dreams" — written around a quote from Mitchell’s 3-year-old grandson: "Bad dreams are good / In the great plan" — is impossibly moving.
Therein, Mitchell considers an Edenic tableau as opposed to our modern world, where "these lesions once were lakes." Movingly, the song’s final lines accept reality for what it is ("Who will come to save the day? / Mighty Mouse? Superman?") rather than what she wishes it could be.
With that, Mitchell’s studio discography — as we know it today — reaches its conclusion. But although the artist is only fully getting her flowers today, we’ve only scratched the surface of the gifts she’s bestowed upon us.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Ebru Yildiz
On 'You're The One,' Rhiannon Giddens' Craft Finds A Natural Outgrowth: Songwriting
Most know Rhiannon Giddens for her multimedia work exploring American musics and how they relate to race in America. 'You're The One,' her first album of original material, is subtly and rewardingly in dialogue with this space.
At a vibey, wood-paneled listening party in Williamsburg, Rhiannon Giddens felt exposed. Chiefly known as an interpreter and a cultural surveyor — both as a solo artist and for her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops — the singer had distributed the lyrics to her new album, You're the One.
The assembled were welcoming and supportive; Nonesuch Records president David Bither was there in her corner, and delivered heartfelt remarks at the outset. Still, on a WhatsApp call weeks after, Giddens admitted she felt "awkward as hell." But that's OK, she explains.
"I'm very comfortable doing the things that I've been doing, so it can become a death knell for an artist to be super comfortable," she tells GRAMMY.com. "So I think it was time to step out a little bit and go, 'OK, so this is what happened.'
"But I don't talk about slavery, and I don't talk about civil rights," the two-time GRAMMY winner — and Pulitzer winner — continues. "This is a different way of being, and just as valid."
Giddens is referring to her work in a litany of fields — opera, documentary, ballet, podcasting, and more. Therein, she's aimed to plumb "difficult and unknown chapters of American history" through musical lenses, like the evolution of the banjo from Africa to Appalachia.
Out Aug. 18, You're the One is more eye-to-eye than Giddens' other works; she sings in first person, and deals in themes of romance and devotion, as with the glowing and companionable title track.
There's also a razzing kiss-off ("If You Don't Know How Sweet It Is") — and a brooding, socially conscious moment in the form of "Another Wasted Life," about the suicide of Kalief Browder at Riker's Island.
But despite these more direct expressions, Giddens hasn't simply pivoted from sociological to confessional; that's a binary that can be put to bed.
I'm drawing a little bit more from my experience, but I had to draw from my experience to write other people's stories," she says. "There's emotions that I feel that I then translate into these other stories, so I don't think this record is completely different from that [mode of expression]."
In that way, You're the One isn't a left turn for Giddens; it's another branch on her evermore sprawling tree. Read on for an interview with the singer-now-songwriter about how it came to be, her recent team-ups with Paul Simon and much more.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
At the Brooklyn listening party, was it vulnerable to reveal your songwriting side?
Totally. I felt like I was awkward as hell. I'm very comfortable talking about other people's stories, and that's what I've been drawn to my whole career as an interpreter.
Even as a songwriter, I am inspired by historical stories and wanting to write them. It's one of the reasons why I'm doing this, because the job of the artist is to always grow.
Yeah, it does feel vulnerable. Because it's like, I don't really like talking about myself. It's not like these are all Taylor Swift-type "ripped from my soul and my experience" songs.
But obviously, to write any song you have to pull on experiences, and whatever you do with them — whether you exaggerate them or change them — you're still pulling on yourself more. So, it's been interesting.
What kicked you into gear to do this? To express how you feel, rather than tell other people's stories?
Well, it doesn't express how I feel, though. This is the thing: they're still songs, and it's still a performance.
I'd say I'm drawing a little bit more from my experience, but I had to draw from my experience to write other people's stories. There's emotions that I feel that I then translate into these other stories, so I don't think this record is completely different from that.
There's a couple that are responses to experiences in my life, and then there's a bunch where I'm playing with styles and I'm playing with strong women's voices, and I'm playing with being inspired by all of these artists that have come before me.
So, it's kind of a mixture of these things.
You're right. There doesn't have to a be a binary between diaristic and impersonal.
And I do feel like I'm a more old-fashioned songwriter in that way — in that I really love form and I really love words, and I really love wordplay, and I really love taking an idea and really kind of running with it rather than more of a personal response to something that happened in my life.
I guess "You're the One" is probably the closest to that. That, I wrote purely out of this feeling that I had when I had my son. And I'd had really bad postpartum depression with my daughter, which kind of puts a curtain in between you and your emotions. It's really tough to get through that.
So when I had another kid and I didn't have that and I felt all of that joy — for both of my children. Obviously, I love them the same.
But I recognized that feeling more after the birth of my son because I recognized, Oh, this is what happens when you don't have postpartum depression. That's amazing. And I felt all of that. But that's probably the only one that's a pure response.
I love how universally applicable it is.
You can do "You're the One" at a wedding. It doesn't necessarily say, You're a baby.
That's what I think is really interesting about songs; as long as the emotion is pure, that forms the core of it. It can then represent so many different things, depending on how it's written. I love those stories of a song: somebody writes it because of x, and then everybody thinks it's because of y.
What else is sourced from your personal experience?
"If You Don't Know How Sweet It Is" started as a poem when I was kind of teed off at somebody who kind of left my music or whatever. It was a professional relationship that went south, and I kind of went, "Man, you don't know how good it is," and I just kind of wrote this little piece.
Then, I turned it into a marriage song, turned it into more of a Dolly Parton kind of [song] — this is a moment where this woman is fed up with this husband who has taken her for granted.
So, there's a bunch of [those songs], where I kind of take these emotions that may or may not be really represented. [Any given song] may have come from situations that may or may not be represented in what the final song is.
Tell me how you wanted You're the One to impact people on an aural level.
I was sitting on all these songs that I've written over the last 14 years and haven't had a home. I knew this was my chance to explore other soundworlds. I knew these songs needed more than a banjo, a fiddle and a frame drum. They needed more contemporary sounds.
So, we reached out. My manager suggested Jack Splash, and I knew that he had done Valerie June — and of course, she's in the club; I've known her for a long time. I was like, Well, if he worked with her, he's probably going to have an idea of what to do with me.
I met with him, and I was very quickly like, "Look, I really want you to be creative and I want you to bring your whole box of sounds, but I also want to bring my sounds." I didn't want to say Hey, put all your production on these and whatever. I wanted it to be a mixture of my sounds and his sounds — his musicians and my musicians.
So we did a real old-fashioned recording session where we had everybody there the whole time. It was like six days. "You Louisiana Man" was the first one we did, and that one was like 11 people on the floor, I think, at the same time recording. It was amazing.
I brought my folks, he had his folks, and it was a real beautiful mixture of styles and vibes. I think it's unique. You can't really place it. It's got some retro feel, it's got some modern feel, it's got some old-timey feeling sounds, and that's what I wanted.
That's the platonic ideal, right? The music being made together, in real time.
That's what I think. That's what I like.
Now, I know that there's a type of music that you make that's basically the engineer, the producer's making it, you know what I mean? And the different musicians, like he's the conductor. And that's fine. And it's not to pooh-pooh that, but it's not the way I want to make music.
I was kind of like, "Take my advance. I don't care if I make any money from this. I need us to put the money towards having the bodies in the space."
Because when we're bringing together all these varied things — electric bass, and drums, and organ, and congas, and accordion, and fiddle, and Congolese acoustic guitar — overdubs are not going to work. It's just going to be Jack's sound with a little bit of me on top, or a little bit of accordion or synths or something.
I was like, "That's boring. Can we not do that?" I really wanted us to find a sound that we couldn't have found any other way than being in the room.
Most know you via your interrogations of the history of American music, and your explorations of these wonderful instruments. Where are you at currently with this subject?
The more that I investigate, the more I'm just like: it's so complicated. And the real story is always more interesting than the one that we're fed, but it's always more complicated.
It's multicultural. That's what I'm finding: when you bring people together who want to listen to each other, you find new forms of music. That's just the facts. So, it's the genre thing. I'm going to continue to fight against it.
People always ask me, What is it that I play? And I'm like, "You tell me because I don't care." You know what I mean? "Put whatever box you need to put me in to sell my s—, but I'm not going to self-identify outside of American acoustic music. That's what I do."
I think we look at the wrong categories. I'd rather know: is the music highly produced and electric or is it acoustic? Is the music slow or is it fast? Is the music for dancing or is it songs that don't have a particular dance beat? Is the music based on riffs or is it [not]?
What does R&B mean? What does rock mean? That changes every five minutes, and it doesn't tell anything about what the music actually is. And if it does, it puts it in a box and you may not listen to it because you think what it is.
So I get why they do it, but I just think it's really destructive to innovation and what American music really stands for, which is mixture.
Another person who's very interested in exploring the intricacies of American music is Jason Isbell. Can you talk about working with him on "Yet to Be"?
It was a lot of fun. I wish I could have been there when he did it. I Zoomed in.
He's just so great. And look, we have one of these 21st-century Twitter relationships. We comment on each other's Twitter sometimes. And I have watched him, from afar, be an amazing advocate, a very smart musician and social media person.
I love the way that he interacts with his fans. I love how he's supported Black women musicians, and putting his money where his mouth is. And I just love the way that he moves in the world.
So it just seemed like a really natural fit to get him to sing on this song, and he just knocked it out of the park. It was really, really great.
What do you want You're the One to be a bridge to in your musical life?
I'm just excited to do what I do. I feel very lucky. I get to make the music I want to make with the people that I want to make it with.
I'm not famous. I have a nice-sized, very committed following. I can put on tours and pay my musicians what I should pay them, and earn a living. I just want to keep doing that, and telling stories, and raising other people up, and using my platform for the things that matter to me.
So if this record can bring me to audiences that maybe wouldn't have given me a second listen, that'd be amazing. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe nobody cares. I just make the songs and see where they go and just keep going with that.
I'm looking to have a really good time on tour with my wonderful musician friends and just keep doing the do. It's a rough world out there right now. So I'm just trying to use my time in front of people for as good of things as I can. So, that's what I got.
I've got to ask about Paul Simon. I'm a devotee. You've sang with him in the recent past, including "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute to the Songs of Paul Simon."
I didn't really realize how much of a soundtrack his music has been of my life until I was waiting to go on and listening to all the songs going, Oh my god, I know all of these. He's such an amazing songwriter. And working with him for "American Tune" is just one of the highlights of my life.
Not just because it's Paul Simon. I mean, yeah, he's an amazing musician, but the experience that we had working together on that, him changing those words for me to sing it and me kind of taking this song in and going, Wow, this is exactly how I feel right now. It's exactly how people that I know feel, and he wrote it before I was born.
And I think for him to see another artist of a different generation making it her own right in front of his face, [it's impactful], you know what I mean? I cried during the dress rehearsal. I was just feeling it. So that was a really powerful experience and I will always treasure it.
It was unexpected. It came at the last minute. I respect him a lot for being willing to do it. And as I like to say to people, nobody has the monopoly on doing the right thing and on wanting to comment on what's going on right now.
And yeah, he's an old white guy, but dang, he didn't have to do nothing but sit back and collect his checks. He made a statement with that song, and I don't want to take that away from him. I didn't change those words; he changed those words.
I remember seeing you perform "American Tune" together at Newport Folk 2022. He said something to the effect of, "This will have more resonance if Rhiannon sings with me."
The thing is the words that he changed, particularly the line about the Mayflower. Originally, it was like, "We came here on the Mayflower." And then he changed it to, "We didn't come here on the Mayflower.
99 percent of the people who live in America don't have ancestors that came on the Mayflower. You know what I mean? It's not just about Black people, it's not just about me. It opens up that song for everybody. And I think that that's really important, because we need to come together in any way that we can. It's an incredible song.
I became the focal point for that, obviously, because I was singing the song. But it is never really about me. I don't really like focusing on What does it mean for me to do it? it really gives that song a whole new life for anybody else who wants to sing it.
I think that's really powerful, and I'm just glad that he was open to doing it. And that we got a chance to not just do it once — but twice.