meta-script'Woodstock 50th Anniversary' Author Mike Greenblatt Talks New Book & How Woodstock Was A "Cosmic Accident" |
Cover of Woodstock 50th Anniversary: Back to Yasgur's Farm

Woodstock 50th Anniversary: Back to Yasgur's Farm


'Woodstock 50th Anniversary' Author Mike Greenblatt Talks New Book & How Woodstock Was A "Cosmic Accident"

"500,000 people pressed together, wet and cold, hungry and thirsty…There was no security and there was not one reported instance of violence...It's almost impossible to contemplate," Greenblatt tells the Recording Academy about the historic fest

GRAMMYs/Aug 21, 2019 - 11:31 pm

On Aug. 14, 1969, hundreds of thousands of people took over the small town of Bethel, N.Y. to hear the sounds and inspirational words from their favorite artists, including Jimi HendrixSly and the Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater RevivalJanis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. Longtime music journalist, then an 18-year-old music fan, Mike Greenblatt was there. 

In his brand-new book, Woodstock 50th Anniversary: Back to Yasgur's Farm, out in honor of the fest's 50th anniversary, Greenblatt features his own firsthand account, as well as a collection of submitted stories from both artists and attendees to recreate the experience that transpired a half-century ago—one that original promoter Michael Lang hasn't been able to truly replicate since.

We caught up with Greenblatt over the phone to learn more about what it was really like to be at Woodstock, how we can apply the fest's activist mindset today, which acts blew him away and more.

Photo: Warner Bros/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

How was it for you to revisit Woodstock 50 years later? 

I got a lump in my throat a little bit after I revisited that time of me being 18 and being at that particular festival, especially when I started talking to the artists. I did 32 interviews and I read nine books, because a lot of the artists are dead but they have books. And some of the artists would not talk to me. For instance, the guys in Credence Clearwater Revival didn't have very nice things to say about John Fogerty, who refused the band's participation in the movie and the soundtrack. And when I went to go call John Fogerty's people, they said, "He's not talking about that anymore, read his book." So I did.

But it was really a trip back to a much more innocent time and a time that I cherish.

I mean, it was a turning point in your life as a young man, but then also for this country and for so many of the artists that performed. So it's a lot of things coming together.

No doubt about it. It was a turning point for me because it was where I first embarked on the concept of music as salvation. In other words, as long as the music was playing, I was okay. No matter what was going on around me. And we were pretty damn uncomfortable on Sunday. If Thursday, Friday and Saturday were idyllic, Sunday was a disaster. A monsoon whipped through us and all my stuff was back at the car. Tents, clothing, food, pot and water, and we didn't even know where the car was. There was no getting back to the car and we were in T-shirts and shorts and were drenched.

After the rain, it got really cold, even though it was August. Plus, the LSD that I took on Sunday started coming on right when my friend Neil said, "I'm gonna go find a phone booth and call our moms to tell them we're right." Woodstock would have been a lot easier with cell phones and bottled water, let me tell you. He had left and I was alone now and the music stopped. They said, "We're gonna stop the music. There's a storm coming through. Hold on to each other, we'll be right back." So I'm alone, there's no music and it wasn't fun anymore. I started panicking and getting paranoid. And then they made an announcement from the stage, which is in the [1970 Woodstock] movie. They said, "Don't take the brown acid." And I said, "Oh no. I just took it."

"But [Woodstock] was like a cosmic accident." 

I would love to hear, in a nutshell, what was it really like to be an attendee, to be part of Woodstock?

I loved Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Saturday night was folk night and there was a light drizzle. People were very friendly and shared their food, water, wine and pot. It was really nice and there was a sense of "we're all in it together," that the long-hair sitting next to you on the grass on the ground was your brother. You knew he was against the war in Vietnam. And you knew he was for civil rights and women's liberation.

And, when Arlo Guthrie held up the newspaper on stage and says that famous line, "The New York State freeway is closed, man," we knew that the whole world was watching. There was a palpable sense of we better not screw it up because we were the peace and love generation. So we couldn't have any problems at this big festival or else it would all go up in flames. And we didn't, that's the whole point about Woodstock. 500,000 people pressed together, wet and cold, hungry and thirsty with not enough food, water and bathrooms and no police. There was no security and there was not one reported instance of violence. How could that be? It's almost impossible to contemplate.

How did the conversations go with the surviving artists whom you interviewed for the book? Does that collective cultural moment still feel like a connective point for you and others who were there?

There is a generational situation going on between the Baby Boomers that we were special, that we were the generation, the dividing point. The artists' backstage revelations were fascinating, and the hard times that they had getting in and out of the festival and the equipment problems that they had. But I think that the interviews that I did with the people that actually ran the show were profoundly revelatory. I did not know, for instance, that governor Rockefeller wanted to send in the National Guard to disperse everybody at the butt of a gun, like Nixon tried to do at Kent State just months later.

Could you imagine? At Woodstock? I mean, the possibility of a disaster was always right there on the surface. But we did it. John Morris is a hero in my eyes. He ran the Fillmore for Bill Graham. Graham lent out his entire staff to Michael Lang for the Woodstock festival because no one had ever heard of Lang and the artists didn't want to commit. Graham vouched for him and the artists rolling in one after another.

But it was like a cosmic accident. Because there wasn't enough facilities. No one, in a million years, expected the people to keep pouring in from all sides and never stop coming. That 500,000 figure is the estimate, of course; there are those who think it was more like 800,000. And professor Chris Langhart from NYU, who is, again, one of the heroes of this festival, says that there's police aerial photos of the area that would almost prove that it was more like 800,000. He said to me, "You going to do a book about Woodstock? You want to get it newsworthy? Call the state police, get them to unleash those records." Well, I tried and it's impossible.

Photo: John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Image

The police didn't go into the festival at all, right? It's surprising they decided to stand back.

They let the kids do their thing. The police kept saying how unbelievably well-behaved we were. Max Yasgur, the farmer who let us groove on his property, had to go to bat for us with the townspeople. He's another hero out of this thing. Because we were kicked out of Wallkill and the people that put this thing together, maybe a crew of about 125 people who built the stage and the water system and everything else, they had only 18 days to do the whole thing. And it rained like 15 of those days. It's still the record in Sullivan County, N.Y. for the most amount of rain in a three-week period.

Do you think a Woodstock festival, a.k.a. "three days of peace and music," could authentically be recreated in this day and age?

No. They tried in '94 and '99 and there were arsons, rapes, burglaries and violence. It can't be replicated. It was a one-of-a-kind event, it had never happened before where so many people got together with no violence. It certainly hasn't happened since and I don't think it could ever happen [again] because of human nature. I mean, it was the second-biggest city in New York for those four days. People were born, people died, one guy got run over by a tractor while sleeping in his sleeping bag, one guy had a burst appendix and someone else O.D.ed. That's it, three deaths and a couple of babies were born.

"They tried in '94 and '99 and there were arsons, rapes, burglaries and violence. It can't be replicated. It was a one of a kind event, it had never happened before where so many people got together with no violence."

It's crazy, like you said, to wrap your head around.

Well, we knew it at the time and we were in it. It was like everything that we had read about, heard about on the radio, watched on TV and the bands that we tried to see at [Madison Square] Garden and at clubs in New York. We would get so excited to see one band we loved. This was all our bands at the same place, at the same time. And watching this taboo of humanity, especially after the rains came on Sunday, where people that I would be scared to meet on a dark corner in Newark, N.J., where I was raised, were making fires and feeding people and handing out blankets, and the townspeople showed up in flatbed trucks handing out bread. To be in it and look at it and be heavily tripping at the time just made it phantasmagoric, surrealistic.

I knew it was so special, but I could only just stand there and look at it. I wasn't one of the people that would take charge in helping other people, I admit. I stood there and I looked all around me, fascinated.

How did being an attendee at Woodstock affect your path in life? I know you ended up going into music writing. How do you see that now, looking back?

My mother cried and cried when I came home, she had seen the news. I end the book with her tears as a metaphor for the older generation trying to understand us. But I think that was the moment I realized that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to listen to more music and tell people about it. The fastest way to do that was to go to shows and write about it, and that's all I've ever done, listen to music and tell people about it, be it as a journalist, an editor or a publicist. Ever since Woodstock, that was my mission in life. And it persists to this day.

Woodstock feels like a great early example of how gathering a large group people around music can really make waves in society. What are your beliefs or your thoughts on the power of music to create change?

Music is spiritual. People to listen to music and get from it what they will, but it's all about that connection between the human and the sounds. And there's something about lyrics and chords, melodies and harmonies and instrumentation, that when put together in the proper way, have a profoundly—it's religious to me. I consider myself agnostic, but music is my religion and my church. When I go to a show and the show is absolutely perfect, I'm in church, man.

I can relate to that. And for religious ceremonies, music is the part that moves people.

At the very beginning of time, all music was religious music.

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What do you think performing Woodstock meant to each of these artists?

There's 32 different answers to that question, 32 different artists. Quill, for instance, was supposed to be the band that broke big after Woodstock. To me, they sounded like a bunch of guys banging on pots. Santana that became superstars after. The Santana album wasn't even out yet, nobody knew who they were.

Santana came out, people were enjoying themselves on a sunny day at the time, and their performance was so incendiary and so righteous, fusing unbelievably great hard rock with salsa music, no one had ever heard anything like that. They practically invented world beat music right on that very stage. And Michael Shreve's drum solo during "Soul Sacrifice" that day [pauses]—he was barely 20. It galvanized the entire Woodstock nation and they became superstars.

Now, that's just 1 of 32. And for my favorite, there's a few. There were bands that carried me away; The Band, for instance. Back then, we thought a band was great by how close to the record they sounded. The Band sounded exactly like their records, the vocals, the harmonies. And they kept switching instruments. They all played every instrument, Switching after every song, I have never seen that. So they stand out.

Sly and the Family Stone also stand out. Because it was so late, I was falling asleep and their set was so rabble-rousing. We were up on our feet and chanting, "Higher, higher!" during the song "I Want To Take You Higher." Sly Stone was at the top of his game and the band was unbelievable. And Mountain—Leslie West's lead guitar—was the loudest band I ever heard in my life. They practically invented heavy metal at Woodstock. There's so many others I can think of.

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I think that's part of what's interesting with "hard questions" like this, of how we summarize these major things. And to see, 50 years later, what still stands in the front of your mind.

One thing that stands in front of my mind was Friday night, the very last performer was Joan Baez. She was very pregnant, and she came out and had a political agenda. Politics was a subtext of Woodstock, with Vietnam and Nixon. She sang "Joe Hill," the story of this union martyr who said, when they executed him for a murder he didn't commit, "Don't mourn, organize." That still sends chills through my rather leftwing, liberal body. Joan Baez was so affecting to us, when she sang "We Will Overcome." It wasn't corny back then, it was real. And she sang [the Byrds'] "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" with a friend that she brought out, and they referenced Ronald Reagan, who everybody already hated as the governor of California.

"Get behind the people that you like politically and go out and volunteer. Do something. Work with the homeless, work with the disenfranchised. And don't just complain about things, get involved. You can change the world."

Santana said in a recent interview about Woodstock, "The people wanted the same things we want today." That really stuck with me because it's true; women and people of color are still not treated equally and we're still fighting wars abroad. So, what message do you have for young people today who are unhappy with the current state of affairs? What are your takeaways from the Summer of '69 and how do you think they apply today?

Well, just like Joe Hill said, "Don't mourn, organize." All politics is local, it all starts on a local level. If you're outraged at what's going on today, get involved, go door to door, take names. It's what I did this past year, in 2018, for a local woman who had never run for anything. I mean, she lost, but she made a point. Get behind the people that you like politically and go out and volunteer. Do something. Work with the homeless, work with the disenfranchised. And don't just complain about things, get involved. You can change the world.

That was the whole thing about the '60s. We really thought we were going to change the world. Well, guess what? We didn't, but that feeling, it's a feeling of camaraderie with your fellow hippie back at the time. Find like-minded people and get together and organize and fight to change what's going on today. It's almost worse now than it was in '69. I hate to say that.

I think, like you said, everyone at Woodstock knew the world was looking and that it was important to show what peace and love really meant.

Exactly. We proved it at Woodstock.

It speaks to the power of people speaking up and using the platforms of music, of festivals, of peaceful organized groups to show that love is indeed stronger.

Well, I thought when I was 16, when The Beatles sang "All You Need Is Love," I actually believed that. Of course it was naïve, you need a hell of a lot more than love. But it's a good starting point.

What do you believe, in the couple of months and years following Woodstock, were the biggest after-effects? What happened when you all came home?

The iconic nature of the festival really didn't manifest itself until much later. The movie came out in 1970, which was a year later, and all of the sudden people started getting interested in Woodstock again. It was a wonderful movie, it revolutionized cinema with the split screen effects and so forth. It hadn't been done at that time. After the movie came out, there was a rush of Woodstock appreciation. But then, in the mid- to late-'70s, when punk rock took hold and rock stars became passé, Woodstock became almost trivialized. It almost wasn't appreciated for what it was. I don't know when the tide turned again, but now it is really looked upon as something special. There's the great Woodstock museum up at Bethel Woods, which is on the site of the actual festival, where I'll be for three days, starting August 15.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Here we go!!!<br>I will be in Bethel all weekend for this amazing weekend of peace,love and music.<br>Please visit me by the merchandise store and check out my book.<a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Woodstock50thAnniversary</a> <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Santana</a> <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#woodstock2019</a> <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; mike greenblatt (@mikeg1012) <a href="">August 16, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

This is the last gasp of Woodstock, man. It's not going to have this much attention for the 51st, the 52nd; the 50th, this is it. This is our Woodstock swan song. But people should remember that for four days, the peace and love generation proved its point with no police and a half a million people in horrible conditions. No violence, that's the important thing.

I didn't know that before I read your book. I feel like it's not something that always gets highlighted about the event.

Well, there was a lot of things in the book that people are telling me that they read for the first time. I was edited a little bit, I was censored a little bit, probably rightfully so. That said, this is not a book for the whole family. The drugs were prevalent, sure, but my editor took out so many references and I said, "Why are you taking out drugs? This is sex, drugs and rock and roll." He goes, "Yeah, but on every page?" It was just a different time, be it sex, be it drugs.

There's a lot of written material about Woodstock out there. Why should people read your book?

Because I was there. I don't know how many books are coming out about Woodstock this summer, there's going to be a ton of them. But how many authors did the brown acid and can give you a firsthand [account]? I did, as I say, 32 interviews, read nine books, plus my own experiences. It's a tapestry, it's a mosaic of all those different perspectives. 

Why Can't Anyone Get Woodstock Right? 15 Of The Original Fest's Performers Weigh In

Aida Cuevas, Natalia Lafourcade and Ángela Aguilar perform during the 2019 GRAMMYs
Aida Cuevas, Natalia Lafourcade and Ángela Aguilar perform during the 2019 GRAMMYs

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


10 Facts About Latin Music At The GRAMMYs: History-Making Wins, New Categories & More

For decades, Latin music has been an indispensable part of the GRAMMYs landscape. Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations, here are some milestones in Latin music at Music’s Biggest Night.

GRAMMYs/Oct 18, 2023 - 03:42 pm

The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are right around the corner — and as always, inspired Latin musical offerings will lie within the heart of the list.

While the Recording Academy’s sister academy, the Latin Recording Academy, naturally honors this world most comprehensively, it plays a crucial role in the GRAMMYs landscape just as in that of the Latin GRAMMYs — and there’s been crossover time and time again!

On Nov. 10, the world will behold nominations in all categories — including several within the Latin, Global, African, Reggae & New Age, Ambient, or Chant field. Within the world of Latin music, the awards are: Best Latin Pop Album, Best Música Urbana Album, Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album, Best Música Mexicana Album (Including Tejano), and Best Tropical Latin Album. The Recording Academy also offers a GRAMMY Award for Best Latin Jazz album, though that award is a part of a different field. 

Like the Recording Academy and GRAMMYs themselves, these categories have evolved over the years. Along the way, various Latin music luminaries have forged milestones in Academy history.

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations, here are some key facts to know about Latin music’s history at the GRAMMYs.

The First Award For Latin Music At The GRAMMYs Was Given In 1975

The first winner for Best Latin Recording was pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri, for 1974’s The Sun of Latin Music. Now an eight-time GRAMMY winner, Palmieri took home the golden gramophone in this category at both the 1976 GRAMMYs and the following year for Unfinished Masterpiece.

At the 1980 GRAMMYs, the first group winner was the thrice nominated Afro-Cuban jazz band Irakere, for their 1978 self-titled debut.

Percussionist Mongo Santamaria holds the record for the most nominations within the Best Latin Recording category.

The Sound Of Latin Pop — And The Title Of The Award — Has Shifted Over 40 Years  

Back in 1983, this category was called Best Latin Pop Performance. The first winner was José Feliciano, who took home the golden gramophone for his album Me Enamoré at the 26th GRAMMY Awards.

Best Latin Pop Performance eventually pivoted to Best Latin Pop Album and Best Latin Pop or Urban Album, then back to Best Latin Pop Album — just another example of how the Academy continually strives for precision and inclusion in its categories.

As for most wins, it’s a tie between Feliciano and Alejandro Sanz, at four. Feliciano also holds the distinction of having two consecutive wins, at the 1990 and 1991 GRAMMYs.

The Best Latin Urban Album Category Was Introduced In 2007

The first winner in this category was the urban hip-hop outfit Calle 13, for their 2007 album Residente o Visitante.

The first female nominee was Vanessa Bañuelos, a member of the Latin rap trio La Sinfonia, who were nominated for Best Latin Urban Album for their 2008 self-titled album at the 2009 GRAMMYs.

Here’s Who Dominated The Best Norteño Album Category

The first GRAMMY winner in the Best Norteño Album category was Los Tigres Del Norte, for their 2006 album Historias Que Contar, at the 2007 GRAMMYs. To date, they have landed four consecutive wins — at the 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 GRAMMYs.

The Intersection Between Latin, Rock & Alternative Has Shifted

Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album; Best Latin Rock, Alternative Or Urban Album; Best Latin Rock/Alternative Performance… so on and so forth.

If that’s a mouthful, again, that shows how the Academy continually hones in on a musical sphere for inclusion and accuracy’s sake.

Within this shifting category, the first winner was Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, who won Best Latin Rock/Alternative Performance for 1997’s Fabulosos Calavera at the 1998 GRAMMYs.

At the 2016 GRAMMYs, there was a tie for the golden gramophone for Best Latin Rock, Urban Or Alternative Album, between Natalia Lafourcade and Pitbull. Overall, the most wins underneath this umbrella go to Maná, with a total of three.

These Artists Made History In Tropical Latin Categories

Over the years, this component of Latin music has been honored with GRAMMYs for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Performance, Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album, Best Tropical Latin Performance, and Best Tropical Latin Album.

The first winner of a GRAMMY for Best Tropical Latin Performance was Tito Puente & His Latin Ensemble, for "On Broadway," from the 1983 album of the same name.

Under the same category, the first female winner was Celia Cruz, for "Ritmo En El Corazón." Overall, Rubén Blades has taken home the most GRAMMYs under this umbrella, with a total of six.

This Was The First Latin Artist To Win Album Of The Year

Ten-time GRAMMY winner and 14-time nominee Carlos Santana holds this distinction for 1999’s "Supernatural," at the 2000 GRAMMYs.

This Was The First Spanish-Language Album To Be Nominated For Album Of The Year

That would be Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti, at the 2023 GRAMMYs; Bad Bunny also performed at the ceremony, but Harry Styles ended up taking home that golden gramophone.

Ditto Música Mexicana — Formerly Known As Best Regional Mexican Music Album

Música mexicana — a broad descriptor of regional sounds, including Tejano — is having a moment in recent years, which points to the incredibly rich GRAMMYs legacy of these musical worlds.

The first winner for Best Mexican-American Performance was Los Lobos, for 1983’s "Anselma." For Best Regional Mexican or Tejano Album, that was Pepe Aguilar, for 2010’s "Bicentenario."

The Inaugural Trophy For Best Música Urbana Album Went To…

The one and only Bad Bunny, for 2020’s El Último Tour Del Mundo. He took home the golden gramophone again at the 2023 GRAMMYs for Un Verano Sin Ti

Keep checking back as more information comes out about the 2024 GRAMMYs — and how the Recording Academy will honor and elevate Latin genres once again!

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Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

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.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

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."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

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.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

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." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Robbie Robertson performing live
Robbie Robertson in 2013

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage


Remembering Robbie Robertson: 7 Essential Tracks From The Roots Music Trailblazer

The driving force behind the influential act the Band died Aug. 9 at age 80.

GRAMMYs/Aug 10, 2023 - 02:17 pm

As a songwriter, guitarist, artist, composer and armchair historian, Robbie Robertson richly impacted music throughout a 50-plus-year career. The multiple GRAMMY nominee and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award died on Aug. 9 at age 80. 

Those who think of Robertson as the architect of the Band have unquestionably identified his most essential work, but they also risk selling short his immense contributions to music. He backed Bob Dylan, led a band that laid the foundation for Americana, was the subject of one of cinema’s great concert films, and enjoyed a long affiliation with Martin Scorsese as one of his musical muses. 

Born Jaime Royal Robertson in Toronto, Ontario, to a family with Jewish and Mohawk ancestry, Robertson found himself drawn to American traditions — from the blues and country music, and to both's ethos of self-invention. These traditions would greatly impact his prolific musical output, as well as the sound of rock. 

Robertson first hooked up with the members of the Band at age 15 when they were the Hawks, the backing band for rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins. In the mid-’60s they became the backing band for Bob Dylan’s famed first electric tour. That turned into recording sessions with the Bard in Woodstock, N.Y., ultimately released almost a decade later as the renowned the Basement Tapes

The Band’s first two albums — 1968’s Music from Big Pink and 1969’s self-titled the Band — were both critically acclaimed records that were unique amalgams of rock, folk, country and blues immersed in American iconography. Both albums, as well as the Basement Tapes, have been inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame. 

"The Band’s music shocked the excess out of the Renaissance and were an essential part of the final back-to-the-roots trend of ’60s," Stevie Van Zandt tweeted in eulogy. 

The Band’s breakup was immortalized with the 1978 Martin Scorsese-directed The Last Waltz, which Rolling Stone called the greatest concert film of all time. 

Not long after, Robertson began working with Scorsese as a composer and music supervisor, including on such towering films as Raging Bull and Goodfellas. His solo output included Storyville, a nod to the history and music of New Orleans, and Music for Native Americans, which honors the spirit of his own Mohawk roots. 

As a solo artist, Robertson has earned five GRAMMY nominations, including Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media for The Wolf Of Wall Street in 2015. Robertson also wrote several books, co-authoring Legends, Icons and Rebels: Music That Changed the World and an autobiography, among other tomes. At the time of his passing, Robertson had recently completed his 14th project with Scorsese, Killers of the Flower Moon.

In a statement, Scorsese called Roberston "one of my closest friends, a constant in my life and my work." The filmmaker continued to note that Robertson and the Band's music "seemed to come from the deepest place at the heart of this continent, its traditions and tragedies and joys. It goes without saying that he was a giant, that his effect on the art form was profound and lasting."

A career so varied deserves a varied list of essential musical memories. Read on for seven releases that demonstrate Robbie Robertson's varied musical genius. 

"Yazoo Street Scandal" (1967)  

The Robertson-penned "Yazoo Street Scandal" is one of the first true Band recordings, though they were still the Hawks at the time. Though released formally in 1975, the track was part of the original Basement Tapes bootlegs recorded with Dylan in 1967. 

The blueprint was already apparent: the earthy and rambling playing, Levon Helm’s unstudied and twangy singing, and Robertson playing where mythology meets reality in the form of a narrative around an actual Arkansas street called Yazoo.  

"The Weight" (1968) 

"The Weight" was most of America’s introduction to the Band and the group's first "hit" (it peaked at No. 63 on the U.S. charts), the song would prove more influential on the artist community than the mass market. The song established the Band as progenitors of what would become known as Americana, with blues and country overtones, roadhouse piano and its cryptic story rife with Southern gothic and Biblical allusions. 

Covered numerous times over the years, Aretha Franklin’s noteworthy version features Duane Allman on slide guitar. 

"Up on Cripple Creek"/"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (1969) 

This double-sided single was the Band’s biggest hit, with "Cripple," the A-side, hitting No. 25 in the United States. Though Robertson has said even he doesn’t know the meaning of the song, it seems to turn on the strength and solace men derive from women. 

But it’s "Dixie" that has become a Band signature. A story song that feels like authentic folklore, it takes a seemingly empathetic view on the Civil War South. Critics have argued it glorifies the antebellum South, while others see in it a personal story of a Southerner caught up in a senseless war. Joan Baez’ hit version made it a staple in the summer of 1971.  

"If You Know What I Mean" (1976) 

Neil Diamond would seem an unlikely client for Robertson the producer, but the latter likely related to Diamond’s Brooklyn roots and Brill Building history. Beautiful Noise was a song cycle of sorts about Diamond’s early years in Don Kirshner’s song factory and his bittersweet remembrances of a time gone by — all of which would have resonated with Robertson’s appreciation of music’s roots and traditions. 

"If You Know What I Mean" just missed the U.S. Top 10, but the album went platinum and was one of Diamond’s most critically well-received, proving Robertson’s versatile abilities. It’s also one of the few albums in pop history where the producer shares top billing with the artist on the album’s cover. 

"Webster Hall" (1980) 

Raging Bull, Robertson’s first collab with Scorsese as a music supervisor/composer, happened to produce what many critics consider one the top films of all time. 

"Webster Hall" is a jaunty jazz club instrumental with some sterling keyboard work by the Band’s Garth Hudson. Most importantly, it was the start of a yearslong association between Robertson and Scorsese that began with the latter directing the Band concert film the Last Waltz

 "Broken Arrow" (1987) 

Robertson released only a handful of solo albums, each one moving progressively toward ethereal instrumentals and new agey world music. "Broken Arrow" came from his first effort, released in 1987 and produced by Daniel Lanois

Robertson’s haunting growl, the detailed arrangements and guests such as Peter Gabriel and Manu Katché show he was exploring a broader soundscape than the Band allowed. A 1991 cover went Top 20 for Rod Stewart

Robbie Robertson Visits The GRAMMY Museum

Franc Moody
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


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

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."


Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.


L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

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