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Syreeta Wright Was More Than "Mrs. Wonder": 6 Songs From The Singer/Songwriter & Stevie Wonder Collaborator
Syreeta Wright

Photo: David Redfern/Staff

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Syreeta Wright Was More Than "Mrs. Wonder": 6 Songs From The Singer/Songwriter & Stevie Wonder Collaborator

Singer/songwriter Syreeta Wright co-wrote many popular songs with Stevie Wonder, to whom she was briefly married, during the 1970s. Yet Wright was prolific in her own right despite a lack of commercial success and her star never quite rising.

GRAMMYs/May 10, 2022 - 03:38 pm

Nearly every article marking the death of singer/songwriter Syreeta Wright mentions Stevie Wonder. Sometimes it’s in the first sentence, sometimes a little later, but it’s always there. A reminder that for some performers, usually women, it’s their relationships that make the news. Even their deaths are overshadowed by their partners.

So let’s get this out of the way: Yes, Syreeta Wright was briefly married to Stevie Wonder. (Their marriage lasted between one and three years, depending on the source.) But what so many articles miss is that, when Wright died, Wonder not only lost an ex-wife and friend, but a collaborator and partner. And the world lost an artist who has been overshadowed by a very brief marriage to a very talented man.

Among Wright's contributions to Wonder's canon are "Blame It On The Sun," "I Never Dreamed You Leave in Summer" and "Think of Me As Your Soldier." Wonder understood the magnitude of Wright’s talent, telling a Blues & Soul interviewer in 1970, "Syreeta has a unique ability to express exactly what I want to say with a lyric."

Wright was a poet who understood the power of a single line to heal, to break; Wonder’s classic period (the time between 1971 and 1976 when Wonder released a string of near-perfect albums) would have been a lot less so without her. "Syreeta and I wrote great songs together," Wonder toldBillboard in 2004. "There is heartbreak, but on the other side of it, God didn't have to bless me by knowing her and sharing life and love."

Attempting To Make Moves In Motown

But this isn’t a story about Stevie Wonder. This is a story about a girl named Syreeta Wright — who loved to write poems, who was born in Pittsburgh in 1946. "I was always writing little embarrassing poems as a child," she told Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) in 1974. She started singing around age four and as a teenager, moved to one of the epicenters of soul and R&B — Detroit. That’s where Motown was, after all. And Motown was making stars. "[Songwriter and producer] Brian Holland got everything started for me. I think I was with the company for a month and I called 'round saying 'What are you going to do for me?'" she told Black Music in 1974.

Motown could be like that: Rosters spilling over with talent, but locked into a system that could often forget them and underuse them. Many albums sat unreleased, and those artists were at a loss for how to move their careers forward. Wright was no different. "I bothered [Holland] every day until he said I want you to come down, we have some material I want you to listen to."

In 1967, Wright finally got the chance to record her first single for the label, written by Holland along with songwriting duo Ashford and Simpson "I Can’t Give Back the Love I Feel for You." "When I recorded 'I Can't Give' it was really funny because I was so scared," she told Black Music. "They handed me a set of earphones and to me the whole atmosphere was so cold, I mean just sterile."

Yet her voice is not sterile. While there's a hesitation in the song, Wright's voice shines with a kind of soft warmth; it was going to take the right material and a little time to bring that out. The record also came out with the name Rita Wright on the label, another sign that this wasn’t quite her, not yet. "[Motown] said no one would be able to remember Syreeta. More likely, they couldn’t pronounce it themselves," she told WWD.

The record never really found its audience in the US, something that would come up again and again in Wright's Motown career. Crafting a distinct sound is something the company was known for, but not every artist fit that mold — or even wanted to. By the mid '70s, artists such as Wonder and Marvin Gaye were releasing albums that told a story, and Wright’s early work may have suffered by being part of the quest for a hit single.

Moving Forward, And Never Imitating

Despite the lack of response to her release, Wright stayed on with the label as a secretary in the arranging department, and was also an on-call singer who provided backing vocals for other Motown artists. But this wasn’t the career she wanted, and not the art she was interested in making.

"I was set aside as some sort of Diana Ross wastebasket," she continued to WWD. The Diana Ross comparisons were so heavy, that as Mary Wilson wrote in Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme, Wright was considered as a replacement for Ross when she left the Supremes. Billboard even announced her as the group’s newest member in a 1969 article, calling her the "virtually unknown Rita Wright." But as Wilson explains, "Because [her] style and voice were similar to Diane’s [sic], she seemed an obvious choice to Motown."

Obvious, maybe, but wanted, not so much. "Everyone knew that Syreeta wanted a solo career," Wilson continued. "And I refused to bring in someone who saw the Supremes as a stepping stone."

Syreeta didn’t want to be the next Diana — or the next anyone. She wanted a unique style, one that she could claim as her own. "Don’t go grabbing for other styles," she told WWD. "Shape your own so that no one can ever say ‘Hey, she sounds just like Diana-Aretha-what’s-her-name.’"

"I Can’t Give" was "a hip record," Wright told Soul in 1975, "but the style was all wrong."

Finding Herself In Song

Even at Motown, Wright was still writing poems waiting for the chance to be herself. She shared some of her poetry with Wonder, something that signaled a real change in their relationship, she told Soul. "My poetry is something very private. And when I share it with someone that means they are very special to me. I shared it with Stevie and he liked it."

Wonder asked Wright if he could set some of it to music, and to help him with a song he was working on. The result was her first hit song, "Signed Sealed Delivered (I’m Yours)," co-written with Wonder, Lee Garrett, and Lula Mae Hardaway from Wonder’s 1970 album, Signed, Sealed & Delivered.

"You just don’t know what it's like when some of your scribbling becomes part of a 2 million record hit," she told WWD. The song would also earn Wright her first (and only) GRAMMY nomination.

Wonder and Wright began working as writing partners, with her lyrics providing the shape of what would be known as his great period. The first in the series of his newfound artistic independence was 1971’s Where I’m Coming From. "We wrote all the songs (nine of them) on Where I'm Coming From," she told Black Music. "I also did the lyrics on quite a few of the things on Music Of My Mind."

While her songwriting was exquisite, Mary Wilson was absolutely right about Syreeta: she wanted to be a solo artist. She’d get another try, this time as Syreeta, with her 1972 self-titled album. But much like the songs of her Rita years, the album didn’t make much of a splash. "I don't know why, but the company never really got behind that first album." Wright told Blues & Soul in 1974.

The pair would try again with the 1974 release of Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta, which, unlike her first album, features more of Syreeta’s writing, and a more defined point-of-view. "I like the second because there are love stories behind every song and I worked a lot closer with the overall thing," Wright told Black Music. But even with Wonder's  support, the album failed to do what Wright had hoped.

In a 1980 interview with Blues & Soul, Wright said her partnership with Wonder left her , "too restricted, but I guess that was simply his way of being protective," she said. "But the product always finished up sounding like a Stevie Wonder record, with me as an extra."

Though she’d continue to work with Wonder throughout the '70s, she scored her first hit with another collaborator— Billy Preston— on their 1979 single "With You I’m Born Again."

Wright kept creating for the rest of her unfortunately short life, releasing nine albums and becoming an in-demand backing singer for artists like George Harrison, Michael Bolton, and Quincy Jones. She also worked with Wonder from time to time. When she died in 2004 at the age of 57, she left behind a body of work that, while expansive and beautiful, never quite fulfilled all of the promise that went into creating it.

But like so many hidden musical treasures, Wright's impact can also be measured by those she inspired. British soul singer Omar, with whom Wright collaborated in 1997, told the Mirror that working with Syreeta fulfilled a lifelong dream: "Syreeta is a woman who made me cry. I love her voice so much."

Solange included Wright as one the motivators for exploring her falsetto. "I loved Syreeta Wright and really identified with a few of her songs that she and Stevie Wonder did," she said in 2017. "She was saying some really tough s<em></em>*, but the tone of her voice was so sweet that you could actually hear her more clearly."

Despite the acclaim that didn’t always come during her lifetime, Wright found her way, her sound, her voice. "I think that it's very important to know what you're singing about and believe in it," she told Blues & Soul in 1977. "Your music should be a reflection of yourself, whatever that is." Hear Syreeta Wright's reflections of self with these six songs:

"Where Is the Love" (from The Rita Wright Years at Motown 1967-1970)

From the Rita years, "Where Is The Love"  hints at what’s to come, and shows the limitations of the "Motown Sound" to make every artist shine. Though she’s a force on this song, Wright was definitely an artist who needed to find her own unique path.

"Keep Him Like He Is" (1972)

"Made the sun give up its light to elevate your smile/ So the world could see himself every time that you smiled" From her self-titled debut album. Wright’s lyricism sparkles, her voice floating over the Wonder-composed music, to make a love song for the ages.

"Heavy Day" (1974)

In a review for Ebony, music critic Phyl Garland called Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta "intimate magic." While their musical marriage created a nearly seamless work, it’s the lyrics that create that small, intimate world. Wright's lyrics  give the feeling of furtively glazing behind the walls of a relationship.

"It’s not autobiographical," Wright insisted in a 1974 interview. "I guess I got the idea from that Carpenters' song 'Superstar' — the theme is similar in a way."

"Fancy Lady" (1975)

From Billy Preston’s album It’s My Pleasure, this song co-written by Preston and Wright was the pair’s first collaboration. It’s no wonder that when Preston signed to Motown a few years later, they matched them up again. Even though there’s just a hint of Wright on the song, it would feel empty without her — that’s her magic.

"Rest Yourself" (1977)

For her 1977 album, One to One, Wright teamed with producer Leon Ware for an album that retains the light sweetness in her voice. This was her first without Wonder, though his song "Hamour Love" does close the album. "Naturally, I knew of Leon and he'd just had a platinum album with Marvin Gaye on 'I Want You'." Wright told Blues & Soul in 1977. "So, we got together and I let him hear some of my songs." Of this song, co-written by Wright and her then-husband Curtis Robertson, Jr., she said, "'Rest Yourself' is about doing just that!"

"Funked Up" (1977)

Wright teamed with saxophonist Gary Bartz for a decidedly non-Stevie production. Wright’s husband, Curtis Robertson, Jr.  A funk, jazz, rock, disco fusion recorded during the sessions for Bartz’s Music Is My Sanctuary, "Funked Up" was unreleased until 2005.

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10 Must-See Moments From The 2023 GRAMMYs: Beyoncé Makes History, Hip-Hop Receives An Epic Tribute, Bad Bunny Brings The Puerto Rican Heat
Beyoncé accepting her 32nd GRAMMY at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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10 Must-See Moments From The 2023 GRAMMYs: Beyoncé Makes History, Hip-Hop Receives An Epic Tribute, Bad Bunny Brings The Puerto Rican Heat

The 2023 GRAMMYs marked a triumphant — and historic — return to Los Angeles' Crypto.com Arena, where modern superstars and living legends came together for a memorable celebration of music in all its forms.

GRAMMYs/Feb 6, 2023 - 03:20 pm

A wide, uplifting tapestry of sounds was saluted and rewarded during the 2023 GRAMMYs. The telecast's pluralistic approach delivered a view of the present as a time of musical splendor while also celebrating its past — from hip-hop's legacy, to Latin's cultural influence, to pop's boundary-pushing stars.

Between history-making wins from Beyoncé and Kim Petras, a major victory by a young jazz sensation, and celebratory performances honoring greats, there was plenty to be reveled both on and off the GRAMMY stage. Below, take a look at the highlights of another memorable edition of Music's Biggest Night.

Bad Bunny Sticks Close To His Caribbean Roots

After global star Bad Bunny celebrated a year of extraordinary achievements — both artistic and commercial — the Puerto Rican tastemaker used his GRAMMYs performance to celebrate his Caribbean roots.

Benito could have picked an obvious selection, like the crowd-pleasing single "Tití Me Preguntó." Instead, he focused on the soulful roots of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic by performing electrifying renditions of "El Apagón" and "Después de la Playa." 

Bad Bunny has demonstrated time and again a gift for reinventing Latin genres. And yet, "Después de la Playa" kept its insanely syncopated beats and feverish brass section faithful to traditional merengue. The late Dominican icon Johnny Ventura would have been proud.

The Fans Receive A Much-Deserved Spotlight

The awards, record deals and critical raves are indispensable elements of stardom. But in the end, it is the contributions of average fans that sustain a career. With that in mind, the GRAMMYs organized a roundtable with 10 studious fans, each making a case for their favorite performer to win the Album Of The Year award. 

To their delight — and genuine surprise — host Trevor Noah invited them on stage for the coveted award, asking one of the most devoted fans in Harry Styles' pack to announce his win. The two shared a joyous embrace before she handed him his golden gramophone, serving as a touching closing reminder that the fans mean everything.

The Magic Of Motown Becomes Transformational

A brisk tribute to Motown co-founder Berry Gordy and musical genius Smokey Robinson — three songs, augmented by an inspired Stevie Wonder — proved that words will never be enough to capture the label's contribution to pop culture. A factory of beautiful dreams, Motown gave us a string of timeless hits that combine aural poetry with propulsive rhythms, honeyed hooks and virtuoso arrangements. Seeing the 82 year-old Robinson perform the 1967 classic "The Tears of a Clown" was one of the evening's most dazzling moments. (The performance also featured Wonder's rendition of the Temptations' "The Way You Do The Things You Do" and a duet with country singer Chris Stapleton on Wonder's own "Higher Ground.")

Honoring The Past Shows The Future Is Bright

2022 was a year of artistic triumph, but also of tremendous loss. The In Memoriam segment of the telecast was sobering, also honoring performers who are lesser known in the United States but definitely worthy of a mention — such as Brazil's Erasmo Carlos and Argentina's Marciano Cantero

It began with a stately rendition of "Coal Miner's Daughter" by Kacey Musgraves in tribute to country legend Loretta Lynn, then continued with Quavo and Maverick City Music honoring Migos' Takeoff, ending with an homage to Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie from Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt and Mick Fleetwood. Many artists were lost during the past 12 months, but their music lives on.

A Queen Breaks Records — To A Disco Beat

Beyoncé was allegedly stuck in traffic when she won her third GRAMMY of the evening — Best R&B Song for the joyful single "CUFF IT" — which, as Trevor Noah noted, put her one win away from making GRAMMY history. Luckily, by the time her name was announced for that record-setting feat, she was in attendance — and very much in shock.

Her seventh studio LP, RENAISSANCE, won Best Dance/Electronic Album. The win put her GRAMMY total at 32, marking the most wins of all time. Visibly emotional, Beyoncé first took a deep breath and said "I'm trying to just receive this night"; before heading off stage, she made sure to honor the queer dance pioneers who inspired the album, an exuberant tribute to classic dance format. 

Hip-Hop Shines As A National Treasure

2023 marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop — so, naturally, the GRAMMYs put together perhaps the most legendary celebration possible. Featuring the Roots, Run-DMC, Queen Latifah, and many, many more, the nearly 15-minute performance highlighted the genre's influence from past to present.

The parade of legends tracing the history of the genre was breathtaking. From Grandmaster Flash ("The Message") and De La Soul ("Buddy") to Missy Elliott ("Lose Control") and Lil Uzi Vert ("Just Wanna Rock"), the extensive medley gave hip-hop its rightful place of honor as the most compelling musical movement of the past 50 years.

The Art Of Songwriting Stands The Test Of Time

One of the show's most endearing images was the utter shock on Bonnie Raitt's face when she was announced as the winner of the Song Of The Year GRAMMY — perhaps because her competition featured the likes of Beyoncé, Adele and Harry Styles. "This is an unreal moment," she said. "The Academy has given me so much support, and appreciates the art of songwriting as much as I do." 

In retrospect, Raitt's win shouldn't surprise anyone who is aware of her superb musicianship — and her 15 GRAMMYs to show for it. A rootsy, vulnerable song, "Just Like That" is the title track of her eighteenth studio album; the song also took home the GRAMMY for Best American Roots Song earlier in the evening.

Lizzo Dedicates Her Grammy Win to Prince (And Beyoncé)

By the time Record Of The Year was announced, the prodigiously gifted Lizzo had already brought the GRAMMY house down with rousing performances of the funky "About Damn Time" and the anthemic "Special." But clearly the best was yet to come, as the former track took home one of the night's biggest honors.

As Lizzo began her speech, she paid homage to Prince, who both served as an idol and a mentor to the star. "When we lost Prince, I decided to dedicate my life to making positive music," she said, going on to explain that while she first felt misunderstood for her relentless positivity, mainstream music has begun to accept it — as evidenced by her win for "About Damn Time." 

Before leaving the stage, she made sure to give one more idol a shout-out: Beyoncé. "You changed my life," Lizzo said, reflecting on seeing the "BREAK MY SOUL" singer when she was in 5th grade. "You sang that gospel medley, and the way you made me feel, I was like, 'I wanna make people feel this way with my music.' So thank you so much."

It only takes one listen to the wondrous voice of young Bronx singer Samara Joy to understand that she follows the same path once walked by Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. Joy's second album, Linger Awhile, includes atmospheric versions of such classic nuggets as "Misty," "'Round Midnight" and "Someone To Watch Over Me." 

The rising star was already a winner going into the telecast, as Joy took home the golden gramophone for Best Jazz Vocal Album in the Premiere Ceremony. But when she beat out mainstream hitmakers like Latto, Anitta and Måneskin for the coveted Best New Artist GRAMMY, Joy not only set her place in the jazz firmament — it hinted that the genre may be ripe for a revival.

The Pop Concept Album Lives On

It's not only the stunning beauty of its melodies, and the pristine warmth of the production. Harry's House is a special album partly because of its vaguely conceptual sheen — the pervasive feeling that the 13 songs within are interconnected, an intimate journey into the singer's creative soul. 

At the telecast, Styles performed an ethereal reading of his luminous mega-hit "As It Was." His well-deserved win for Album Of The Year confirmed that it's perfectly valid to mix accessible pop with a sophisticated unifying theme — and if you do it really right, you may just win a GRAMMY.

Check out the complete list of winners and nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

Stevie Wonder Is Bringing A Special Performance With Smokey Robinson & Chris Stapleton To The 2023 GRAMMYs
(L-R) Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Chris Stapleton

Photos courtesy of the Recording Academy

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Stevie Wonder Is Bringing A Special Performance With Smokey Robinson & Chris Stapleton To The 2023 GRAMMYs

The 2023 GRAMMYs will feature a special performance by Stevie Wonder, where he will perform three classic tunes, including two duets with fellow Motown legend Smokey Robinson and country star Chris Stapleton.

GRAMMYs/Feb 3, 2023 - 07:09 pm

Stevie Wonder isn't just a 25-time GRAMMY winner; he's one of the most beloved talents in American music. And on Music's Biggest Night, it's the Recording Academy's honor to broadcast a special performance by the titanic singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.

At the 2023 GRAMMYs, viewers will behold a broadcast of Wonder singing three classic hits, starting with the Temptations' "The Way You Do the Things You Do," featuring the R&B vocal group WanMore.

Next, Wonder will perform Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown" with Robinson himself — one of MusiCares' two Persons Of The Year for 2023, the other being Motown founder Berry Gordy.

Wonder will finish off this special performance — drawn from the 2023 MusiCares Persons Of The Year Gala — with his hit "Higher Ground," from his classic 1973 album Innervisions.

Joining him will be country singer/songwriter Chris Stapleton — an eight-time GRAMMY winner in his own right, who's nominated this year for Best Country Song for co-writing Willie Nelson's "I'll Love You Till The Day I Die," from 2022's A Beautiful Time.

The 2023 GRAMMYs air Sunday, Feb. 5, from Los Angeles' Crypto.com Arena, and it will broadcast live on the CBS Television Network and stream live and on-demand on Paramount+ at 8-11:30 p.m. ET / 5-8:30 p.m. PT. Be sure to log into live.GRAMMY.com for the full experience.

Don't miss what's sure to be a transfixing performance by an American musical giant and two of his fellow greats!

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List

20 Albums Turning 50 In 2023: 'Innervisions,' 'Dark Side Of The Moon' 'Catch A Fire' & More
Clockwise: Stevie Wonder 'Inversions', Pink Floyd 'Dark Side of the Moon', the Allman Brothers Band 'Brothers and Sisters', Al Green 'Call me', David Bowie 'Alladin Sane,' Roberta Flack 'Killing Me Softly'

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20 Albums Turning 50 In 2023: 'Innervisions,' 'Dark Side Of The Moon' 'Catch A Fire' & More

1973 saw a slew of influential records released across genres — many of which broke barriers and set standards for music to come. GRAMMY.com reflects on 20 albums that, despite being released 50 years ago, continue to resonate with listeners today.

GRAMMYs/Jan 24, 2023 - 04:08 pm

Fifty years ago, a record-breaking 600,000 people gathered to see the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band and the Band play Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. This is just one of many significant historical events that happened in 1973 — a year that changed the way music was seen, heard and experienced.

Ongoing advancements in music-making tech expanded the sound of popular and underground music. New multi-track technology was now standard in recording studios from Los Angeles to London. Artists from a variety of genres experimented with new synthesizers, gadgets like the Mu-Tron III pedal and the Heil Talk Box, and techniques like the use of found sounds.  

1973 was also a year of new notables, where now-household names made their debuts. Among these auspicious entries: a blue-collar songwriter from the Jersey Shore, hard-working southern rockers from Jacksonville, Fla. and a sister group from California oozing soul. 

Along a well-established format, '73 saw the release of several revolutionary concept records. The EaglesDesperado, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Lou Reed’s Berlin and the Who’s Quadrophenia are just a few examples that illustrate how artists used narrative techniques to explore broader themes and make bigger statements on social, political and economic issues — of which there were many.

On the domestic front, 1973 began with the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade. Internationally, the Paris Peace Accords were signed — starting the long process to end the Vietnam War. An Oil crisis caused fuel prices to skyrocket in North America. Richard Nixon started his short-lived second term as president, which was marked by the Watergate scandal. 

Politics aside, the third year of the '70s had it all: from classic- and southern-rock to reggae; punk to jazz; soul and R&B to country. Read on for 20 masterful albums with something to say that celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2023. 

Band On The Run - Paul McCartney & Wings

Laid down at EMI’s studio in Lagos, Nigeria and released in December 1973, the third studio record by Paul Mcartney & Wings is McCartney’s most successful post-Beatles album. Its hit singles "Jet" and the title cut "Band on the Run" helped make the record the biggest-selling in 1974 in both Australia and Canada.

Band on the Run won a pair of GRAMMYS the following year: Best Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus and Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical. McCartney added a third golden gramophone for this record at the 54th awards celebration when it won Best Historical Album for the 2010 reissue. In 2013, Band on the Run was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame. 

Head Hunters - Herbie Hancock

Released Oct. 13, Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters was recorded in just one week; its

four songs clock in at just over 40 minutes. That the album was not nominated in the jazz category, but instead Best Pop Instrumental Performance, demonstrates how Hancock was shifting gears.

Head Hunters showed Hancock moving away from traditional instrumentation and playing around with new synthesizer technology — especially the clavinet — and putting together a new band: the Headhunters. Improvisation marks this as a jazz record, but the phrasing, rhythms and dynamics of Hancock’s new quintet makes it equal parts soul and R&B with sprinkles of rock 'n' roll. 

The album represented a commercial and artistic breakthrough for Hancock, going gold within months of its release. "Watermelon Man" and "Chameleon," which was nominated for a Best Instrumental GRAMMY Award in 1974, were later both frequently sampled by hip-hop artists in the 1990s.

Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. - Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen, 22, was the new kid in town in 1973. This debut was met with tepid reviews. Still, Greetings introduced Springsteen’s talent to craft stories in song and includes many characters The Boss would return to repeatedly in his career. The album kicks off with the singalong "Blinded by the Light," which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 100 four years later via a cover done by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. This was the first of two records Springsteen released in 1973; The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle arrived before the end of the year — officially introducing the E Street Band.

Innervisions - Stevie Wonder 

This Stevie Wonder masterpiece shows an artist, in his early 20s, experimenting with new instrumentation such as TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) — the world’s largest synth — and playing all instruments on the now-anthemic "Higher Ground."

The song reached No.1 on the U.S. Hot R&B Singles Chart, and Innervisions peaked at No. 4. The album won three GRAMMYS the following year, including Album Of The Year. Wonder was the first Black artist to win this coveted golden gramophone. In 1989, Red Hot Chili Peppers kept the original funk, but injected the song with a lot of rock on their cover — the lead single from Mother’s Milk.

The Dark Side Of The Moon - Pink Floyd

Critics perennially place this Pink Floyd album, the band's eighth studio record, as one of the greatest of all-time. The Dark Side of the Moon hit No.1 and stayed on the Billboard charts for 63 weeks.

A sonic masterpiece marked by loops, synths, found sounds, and David Gilmour’s guitar bends, Dark Side of the Moon is also a concept record that explores themes of excessive greed on tracks like "Money." Ironically, an album lambasting consumerism was the top-selling record of the year and has eclipsed 45 million sales worldwide since its release. The album’s cover has also become one of the most recognized in the history of popular music.

Pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd - Lynyrd Skynyrd

This debut release features several of the northern Florida rockers' most beloved songs: "Gimme Three Steps," "Tuesday’s Gone" and "Simple Man." The record, which has since reached two-times platinum status with sales of more than two million, also includes the anthemic "Free Bird," which catapulted them to stardom. The song with its slow-build and definitive guitar solo and jam in the middle became Lynyrd Skynyrd's signature song that ended all their shows; it also became a piece of pop culture with people screaming for this song during concerts by other artists.

Houses Of The Holy - Led Zeppelin

The first Led Zeppelin record of all originals — and the first without a Roman numeral for a title — Houses of the Holy shows a new side of these British hardrockers. Straying from the blues and hard rock of previous records, Houses of the Holy features funk (“The Ocean” and “The Crunge”) and even hints of reggae (“D’Yer Mak’er”). This fifth studio offering from Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham also includes one of this writer’s personal Zeppelin favorites — "Over the Hills and Far Away.” The song was released as the album’s first U.S. single and reached No. 51 on the Billboard charts. Despite mixed reviews from critics, Houses of the Holy eventually achieved Diamond status for sales of more than 10 million. Interesting fact: the song “Houses of the Holy” actually appears on the band’s next record (Physical Graffiti).

Quadrophenia - The Who

The double-album rock opera followed the critical success of Tommy and Who’s Next. Pete Townshend composed all songs on this opus, which was later adapted into a movie. And, in 2015, classically-scored by Townshend’s partner Rachel Fuller for a new generation via a symphonic version (“Classic Quadrophenia”). The story chronicles the life of a young mod named Jimmy who lives in the seaside town of Brighton, England. Jimmy searches for meaning in a life devoid of significance — taking uppers, downers and guzzling gin only to discover nothing fixes his malaise. With sharp-witted songs, Townshend also tackles classicism. His band of musical brothers: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon provide some of their finest recorded performances. The album reached second spot on the U.S. Billboard chart.

Berlin - Lou Reed

Produced by Bob Ezrin, Berlin is a metaphor. The divided walled city represents the divisive relationships and the two sides of Reed — on stage and off. The 10 track concept record chronicles a couple’s struggles with drug addiction, meditating on themes of domestic abuse and neglect. As a parent, try to listen to "The Kids" without shedding a tear. While the couple on the record are named Caroline and Jim, those who knew Reed’s volatile nature and drug dependency saw the parallels between this fictionalized narrative and the songwriter’s life.

Catch A Fire - Bob Marley & the Wailers

The original cover was enclosed in a sleeve resembling a Zippo lighter. Only 20,000 of this version were pressed. Even though it was creative and cool, cost-effective it was not — each individual cover had to be hand-riveted. The replacement, which most people know today, introduces reggae poet and prophet Robert Nesta Marley to the world. With a pensive stare and a large spliff in hand, Marley tells you to mellow out and listen to the tough sounds of his island home.

While Bob and his Wailers had been making music for nearly a decade and released several records in Jamaica, Catch a Fire was their coming out party outside the Caribbean. Released in April on Island Records, the feel-good reggae rhythms and Marley’s messages of emancipation resonated with a global audience. A mix of songs of protest ("Slave Driver," "400 years") and love ("Kinky Reggae"), Catch A Fire is also notable for "Stir it Up," a song American singer-songwriter Johnny Nash had made a Top 15 hit the previous year. 

The New York Dolls - The New York Dolls

The New York Dolls burst on the club scene in the Big Apple, building a cult following with their frenetic and unpredictable live shows. The Dolls' hard rock sound and f-you attitude waved the punk banner before the genre was coined, and influenced the sound of punk rock for generations. (Bands like the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and KISS, cite the New York Dolls as mentors.) Singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren — who found time to release A Wizard, A True Star this same year — produced this tour de force. From the opening "Personality Crisis," this five-piece beckons you to join this out-of-control train.

Aladdin Sane - David Bowie

This David Bowie record followed the commercial success of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars. Many critics unfairly compare the two. A career chameleon, with Aladdin Sane, Bowie shed the Ziggy persona and adopted another alter-ego. The title is a pun that means: "A Lad Insane." For the songwriter, this record represented an attempt to break free from the crazed fandom Ziggy Stardust had created.

A majority of the songs were written the previous year while Bowie toured the United States in support of Ziggy. Journal in hand, the artist traveled from city to city in America and the songs materialized. Most paid homage to what this “insane lad” observed and heard: from debauchery and societal decay ("Cracked Actor") to politics ("Panic in Detroit") to punk music ("Watch That Man"). Top singles on Aladdin Sane were: "The Jean Genie" and "Drive-In Saturday." Both topped the U.K. charts.

Faust IV -Faust

This fourth studio album — and the final release in this incarnation by this experimental avant-garde German ambient band — remains a cult classic. Recorded at the Manor House in Oxfordshire, England (Richard Branson’s new Virgin Records studio and the locale where Mike Oldfield crafted his famous debut Tubular Bells, also released in 1973), Faust IV opens with the epic 11-minute instrumental "Krautrock" — a song that features drones, clusters of tones and sustained notes to create a trance-like vibe. Drums do not appear in the song until after the seven minute mark.

The song is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the genre British journalists coined to describe bands like Faust, which musicians largely did not embrace. The rest of Faust IV is a sonic exploration worthy of repeated listens and a great place to start if you’ve ever wondered what the heck Krautrock is.

Brothers & Sisters - the Allman Brothers Band

Great art is often born from grief, and Brothers & Sisters is exemplary in this way. Founding member Duanne Allman died in 1971 and bassist Berry Oakley followed his bandmate to the grave a year later; he was killed in a motorcycle accident in November 1972. Following this pair of tragedies, the band carried on the only way they knew how: by making music.

With new members hired, Brothers & Sisters was recorded with guitarist Dicky Betts as the new de facto band leader. The Allman Brothers Band’s most commercially successful record leans into country territory from the southern rock of previous releases and features two of the band’s most popular songs: "Ramblin’ Man" and "Jessica." The album went gold within 48 hours of shipping and since has sold more than seven million copies worldwide.  

Call Me -  Al Green

Call Me is considered one of the greatest soul records of the 20th century and Green’s pièce de résistance. The fact this Al Green album features three Top 10 Billboard singles "You Ought to Be With Me," "Here I Am" and the title track helps explain why it remains a masterpiece. Beyond the trio of hits, the soul king shows his versatility by reworking a pair of country songs: Hank Williams’ "I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry," and Willie Nelson’s "Funny How Time Slips Away."

Killing Me Softly - Roberta Flack

This Roberta Flack album was nominated for three GRAMMY Awards and won two: Record Of The Year and Best Female Vocal Pop Performance at the 1974 GRAMMYs (it lost in the Album of the Year category to Innervisions). With equal parts soul and passion, Flack interprets beloved ballads that showcase her talent of taking others’ songs and reinventing them. Producer Joel Dorn assembled the right mix of players to back up Flack adding to the album’s polished sound. Killing Me Softly has sold more than two million copies and, in 2020, Roberta Flack received the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award.

The album's title cut became a No.1 hit in three countries and, in 1996, the Fugees prominently featured Lauryn Hill on a version that surpassed the original: landing the No.1 spot in 21 countries. The album also includes a pair of well-loved covers: Leonard Cohen’s "Suzanne" and Janis Ian’s wistful "Jesse," which reached No. 30.

Bette Midler - Bette Middler

Co-produced by Arif Mardin and Barry Manilow, the self-titled second studio album by Bette Midler was an easy- listening experience featuring interpretations of both standards and popular songs. Whispers of gospel are mixed with R&B and some boogie-woogie piano, though Midler’s voice is always the star. The record opens with a nod to the Great American Songbook with a reworking of Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael’s "Skylark." The 10-song collection also features a take on Glenn Miller’s "In the Mood," and a divine cover of Bob Dylan’s "I Shall be Released." The record peaked at No. 6 on the U.S. charts.

Imagination - Gladys Knight & the Pips

Released in October, Imagination was Gladys Knight & the Pips' first album with Buddha Records after leaving Motown, and features the group’s only No. 1 Billboard hit:  "Midnight Train to Georgia." The oft-covered tune, which won a GRAMMY the following year, and became the band’s signature, helped the record eclipse a million in sales, but it was not the only single to resonate. Other timeless, chart-topping songs from Imagination include "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," and "I’ve Got to Use My Imagination."

The Pointer Sisters - The Pointer Sisters

The three-time GRAMMY-winning Pointer Sisters arrived on the scene in 1973 with this critically-acclaimed self-titled debut. Then a quartet, the group of sisters from Oakland, California made listeners want to shake a tail feather with 10 songs that ranged from boogie-woogie to bebop. Their sisterly harmonies are backed up by the San Francisco blues-funk band the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils. The record opens with "Yes We Can," a hypnotic groove of a song written by Allen Toussaint which was a Top 15 hit alongside another cover, Willie Dixon’s "Wang Dang Doodle."

Behind Closed Doors - Charlie Rich

This pop-leaning country record of orchestral ballads, produced by Billy Sherrill, made Rich rich. The album has surpassed four million in sales and remains one of the genre’s best-loved classics. The album won Charlie Rich a GRAMMY the following year for Best Country Vocal Performance Male and added four Country Music Awards. Behind Closed Doors had several hits, but the title track made the most impact. The song written by Kenny O’Dell, and whose title was inspired by the Watergate scandal, was the first No.1 hit for Rich. It topped the country charts where it spent 20 weeks in 1973. It was also a Billboard crossover hit — reaching No. 15 on the Top 100 and No. 8 on the Adult Contemporary charts.

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Berry Gordy And Smokey Robinson Are The 2023 MusiCares Persons Of The Year: Why The Motown Legends Deserve The Honor
(L-R) Berry Gordy & Smokey Robinson

Photo: Mario Escobar

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Berry Gordy And Smokey Robinson Are The 2023 MusiCares Persons Of The Year: Why The Motown Legends Deserve The Honor

Berry Gordy and his first Motown signee, Smokey Robinson, are MusiCares Persons Of The Year for a very good reason: They're trailblazers whose legacies will forever stand the test of time.

GRAMMYs/Jan 4, 2023 - 10:04 pm

It's virtually impossible to imagine a world without Motown Records.

None of their sweet soul music blasting from car windows and storefronts. No Supremes or Temptations or Stevie Wonder providing the rhythms for TV and film. No Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On," or Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street," or Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' "Tracks of My Tears." What kind of world would that be?

For Motown's existence, boom and continued success, one indomitable, canny visionary can take the lion's share of credit: Berry Gordy, who founded the Detroit label back in 1959. Equally as influential to Motown's legacy is Smokey Robinson — Gordy's creative and business partner, and best friend of more than 65 years.

Both loom so large in music, and their stories are so intertwined, that picking just one as the MusiCares Person Of The Year — an honor previously bestowed on Joni Mitchell, Quincy Jones, Aerosmith, and other luminaries — would be a half-measure. For the first time, MusiCares has expanded the honor to include two Persons Of The Year of equal and parallel esteem.

Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson fulfill the Person Of The Year dictum to a tee: Together and apart, their creative accomplishments and philanthropic work have few equivalents. And prior to the  65th Annual GRAMMY Awards®, which occur Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, MusiCares will throw a gala to remember, to celebrate the two men while raising funds toward the music charity’s programs and services that assist the music community all year long.

"I am grateful to be included in MusiCares' remarkable history of music icons. The work they do is so critical to the well-being of our music community, and I look forward to a most exciting evening," Gordy said in a statement. Added Robinson: "I am honored that they have chosen me and my best friend and Motown founder Berry Gordy to share this beautiful honor and celebrate with you all together."

Berry Gordy

Berry Gordy. Photo: Mario Escobar

Motown has influenced all sorts of music and inspired generations of artists throughout the decades, and Robinson's unforgettable recordings, like "Shop Around," "I Second That Emotion" and "Mickey's Monkey," are forever beloved. Not only via Robinson's pipes, but those who interpreted material he wrote or co-wrote, like Marvin Gaye ("I'll Be Doggone" and "Ain't That Peculiar"), the Temptations ("My Girl"), Mary Wells ("The One Who Really Loves You"), the Marvelettes ("You're My Remedy"), and the Jackson 5 ("Who's Loving You").

Not to mention the Beatles, who were deeply influenced by Robinson and covered "You Really Got a Hold On Me" on 1963's With the Beatles. (George Harrison included a tribute to Robinson, "Pure Smokey," on his 1975 solo album Extra Texture (Read All About It); Paul McCartney once remembered, "Smokey Robinson was like God in our eyes.")

Smokey Robinson

Smokey Robinson. Photo: Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

If Gordy and Robinson represent the divine to some, Genesis 1:1 was their meeting in the summer of 1957. Gordy — a high-school drop-out, ex-boxer and Korean War veteran who quit his job at Ford to pursue songwriting — discovered Robinson by way of his vocal harmony group, the Matadors, which featured Robinson's then-wife, Claudette.

An enamored Gordy took the group under his wing, renaming them the Miracles and highlighting Robinson as the leader; he produced their first single, "Got a Job," an answer song to the Silhouettes' hit single, "Get a Job." Eventually, on a drive from Detroit to Flint, Michigan, Robinson convinced Gordy to seriously ponder starting his own label.

In 1959, Gordy did just that. He founded Tamla Records with an $800 loan from his family, along with a publishing arm, Jobette, and the rest is history. Robinson not only became Gordy's first writer and debut Motown signee, but, in 1962, he rose to become Motown's vice president. In 1972, Robinson left the Miracles to pursue a solo career, but their brotherhood remained ironclad.

Motown hasn't just gifted the world with an ocean of spectacular music; as one of the most successful, Black-owned businesses in American history, it lit a beacon for Black leadership and innovation forevermore. And it wouldn't be the same without Robinson's vision and artistry, and how it synergized with Gordy's to change the face of music and American culture.

And that's why Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson aren't just Persons Of The Year. They're trailblazers whose legacies have — and forever will — stand the test of time.

This article appears in the 2023 GRAMMYs program book, which will be released soon.

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