Not holding his breath Stays cool: Babyface doesn't have to wait to exhale on Grammy night -- he doesn't allow himself to get all worked up about winning.

February 28, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

When the 38th annual Grammy Awards ceremonies get under way at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles this evening, you'll probably see a lot of stars shifting nervously in their seats as they await the words, "and the winner is . . ."

But if the TV cameras happen to pick Babyface out of the crowd, don't be surprised if he looks cool as a cucumber. He's one musician who doesn't go in for the pins-and-needles approach to awards shows.

"You never know what's going to happen," he explains, over the phone from his Atlanta offices. "As much as you might think you're a shoo-in for something, that will be the time when you won't get it. Just as the time when you least expect it is the time you might get it. So it's best to not even worry about it. Just appreciate the fact that you are nominated."

Of course, that's easy to say when you've been nominated as many times as he has. Over the years, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds has been up for Grammys as a singer, a songwriter and a producer and has won five times. This year, he's up for Producer of the Year for his work with Vanessa Williams, TLC and Madonna, and he has an excellent shot at Best R&B song, where two of his tunes -- "Red Light Special" and "You Can't Run" -- are in contention.

Still, Babyface says that winning is not the most important thing. "Appreciating the fact that you are nominated, that's all you need," he says. "It shows amongst your peers that the work you did, whether it was a hit or wasn't a big hit, that it was appreciated for the art of it. And that's really what the Grammys are supposed to be about. It's really the art of music."

Like most performers, Babyface has had his share of hits and misses. But his "hits" column is longer than most. At the moment, he has three singles in the Top 10 and a Top-Five album, all courtesy of the soundtrack for "Waiting to Exhale," which found him working as both producer and songwriter.

Although his is the only male name on the album jacket, he doesn't see anything special about writing for women. "I just write songs that, hopefully, have a lot of emotion, and it's always kind of cool for women to sing things that are emotional," he says. "It's just the way I write songs."

Nor did he have any idea, going into the project, that he'd be writing for Whitney Houston. "She was undecided whether she was going to do anything," he says. "With Forrest [Whitaker, the director], it was a big question. When I came in on the project, he still wasn't sure.

"Forrest asked her, how did she feel about singing? And she said, 'Well, it's all really going to depend on the music. If the right song comes along, then I'll consider it.'

"For me, it wasn't a necessity, either. I didn't want to go at her, saying, 'You have to sing in order to make this record happen.' It was more of a thing where, if she wanted to sing, then that was great. If she didn't, then we'll do the best record."

It was "Count on Me," the duet with CeCe Winans, that first got Houston into the studio. Says Babyface, "From there, at that point it was, like, 'If anything else should pop up . . .' And the next thing that came up was 'Exhale.' "

Unlike "Count on Me," "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" was written specifically for Houston. "It was with her in mind, and it was with a theme song in mind," he says. "It was something that, watching the film, was needed. Something to tie it all together. Of course, it made sense for Whitney to be that person, to tie it together."

So why isn't "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)," or any of the other "Waiting To Exhale" songs, up for Grammys now? Simple: They were released too late to qualify for the current Grammy ballot. But it's a pretty good bet they'll be in the running next year -- and we'll see if Babyface will remain as calm then.

Grammy time

When: 8 tonight

Where: CBS: WJZ-Channel 13

Who: Ellen Degeneres is the host

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