The past will be a highlight of Grammys

February 19, 1991|By David Hinckley | David Hinckley,New York Daily News

There can be no question on one point about tomorrow night's Grammy Awards show: The most powerful music being honored will be that of the past, with Marian Anderson, Bob Dylan, the late John Lennon and Kitty Wells receiving Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Plans have been drawn for an on-air tribute to Dylan, who is expected to attend. Very little about Dylan ever goes according to someone else's plan, so no specific information has been released.

What may help encourage his appearance is the fact his record company will be issuing a triple-CD set of previously unreleased recordings on March 26. Though these are expected to be mostly material that has circulated on bootlegs in the past, the Grammy show does provide a promotional opportunity.

In any case, the honor is long overdue -- and it's a tribute to the strength of this year's honorees that remarkable as Dylan's work has been, he does not eclipse any of the others.

Marian Anderson is considered one of the finest classical music singers of the 20th century. She is being given the award as "one bTC of classical music's most admired and revered singers and an inspiration for other performers of various creeds, cultures and colors."

She was also a powerful force outside the recording studio. In fact, she is still best known by many people for shaming the D.A.R. into the eventual integration of Washington, D.C.'s, Constitution Hall. When the D.A.R. refused her permission to sing there in the spring of 1939, saying it did not allow blacks, Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for Anderson to sing an outdoor recital April 9. It drew 75,000 people.

Lennon, who died in 1980, created some of the most memorable pop music of the '60s and '70s, first as a member of the Beatles and then solo. Besides writing tunes like "In My Life," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance," he was also a powerful personality and outspoken social commentator. He shared in four Grammys as a Beatle, plus all or parts of three others as an individual.

Wells, possibly the least known of the four nominees in New York, may be the best known in other parts of the country. She almost single-handedly broke the gender barrier in country music in the '50s with a string of hits, including "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels."

She was the only solo female country artist to have a No. 1 record in the '50s, paving the way for Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and the first wave of '60s female stars.

Wells remains active on the country circuit today, and this award marks one of the first times she has gotten national recognition for almost 40 years of superb country music -- very straightforward, with a twang in the guitar and a catch in the throat.

She's never won a Grammy.

Dylan grew up in Minnesota in the '50s wanting to be a rocker before he discovered blues and the countless other forms of folk music. He broke through in 1963 with the song "Blowin' in the Wind" and became known for a while as a godfather of "protest songs" -- the first of many categories in which he refused to be pigeonholed.

For the next 25 years, up to the present, he has played as striking a mix of American music (and its roots) as any artist in the 20th century. He is also one of the half-dozen best songwriters of his era, often imitated and still unsurpassed in song for rich, complex imagery.

He has received one Grammy for his own work: a 1979 "male rock vocal" award for the gospel-ish song "Gotta Serve Somebody."

Also to be presented on the telecast will be three National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Trustees Awards, to Milt Gabler, Berry Gordy and Sam Phillips.

Gabler founded the legendary jazz Commodore label after years as a jazz and pop producer. But he may be best known for producing Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock," which was really incidental to his favored field.

Gordy founded Motown Records, which changed the sound of, and in some ways, the rules for the U.S. pop-music industry with its '60s classics by the Temptations, Four Tops, Supremes and others. Gordy took a systematic approach to the creation of pop music while still keeping the sound primary.

Phillips, a talent scout for independent labels in Memphis in the early '50s, finally founded his own Sun label. Among those who started there were Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.

(One aside to NARAS: Based on Phillips' legendary performances at the first two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinners, it would not necessarily be wise to let him accept this award without a strict time limit. He has a million stories and sometimes seems to want to tell them all.)

Meanwhile, NARAS has already inducted five new recordings into the Hall of Fame, which now includes 86 of the most famous recordings in U.S. music industry history.

The new entries include "Call It Stormy Monday," the 1948 recording by T-Bone Walker on Black and White records; "Misty," Erroll Garner's 1954 recording on Mercury; The Glenn Miller Orchestra's 1939 recording on Bluebird; the 1932 Brunswick recording of "Show Boat" by Paul Robeson, Helen Morgan, James Melton, Frank Munn, Countess Albani and Victor Young; and the 1957 Broadway cast album of "West Side Story" on Columbia, featuring Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert.

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