After announcing that the 19th Annual GRAMMY Awards marked his seventh time as host of the show, Andy Williams told the audience at the Hollywood Palladium, “I’m very proud of this Academy. There aren’t many institutions that would go to so much time and care just to throw an annual get-together for Stevie Wonder.” Williams then explained that Wonder would not be in the audience tonight, but would instead appear by satellite from Lagos, Nigeria.
Indeed, this would be the most global GRAMMY show yet, as it was transmitted via satellite to Hong Kong and the Far East. “I can just picture a Chinese family sitting in front of their television set with their chop sticks in hand watching all this silver and all this glitter and singing a gospel song along with the Oak Ridge Boys,” Williams noted.
That Chinese family would have seen Best Gospel Performance winners the Oak Ridge Boys sing the nominations in the category of Best Inspirational Performance—a category presented on air for the first time and won by Gary S. Paxton. They would have also witnessed a wide range of notable performances from the likes of Natalie Cole (“Mr. Melody”), Sarah Vaughan (“Tenderly”), Chet Atkins and Les Paul (“Deed I Do” from their album Chester & Lester, which won the Best Country Instrumental Award), and Barry Manilow, who performed “I Write The Songs,” which had already won Song Of The Year earlier in the evening for songwriter Bruce Johnston. Arguably, Manilow also should have been presented a special GRAMMY for Biggest Bow Tie.
The Starland Vocal Band, who won Best New Artist over competition that included Boston, the Brothers Johnson, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and white funk band Wild Cherry, performed “Afternoon Delight.” This remains a relatively rare instance of a folky foursome paying a musical tribute to midday sexual interludes while backed by an orchestra.
One performance that was hard to see and barely heard because of a technical malfunction was Stevie Wonder’s performance of “Sir Duke” from his Songs In The Key Of Life album. After considerable buildup, the remote performance ended up illustrating the risk of going global. Indeed, Neil Armstrong’s performance from the moon eight years earlier was transmitted more clearly. Nevertheless, it was another good GRAMMY night for Wonder who won Album Of The Year; Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male; Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male; and Best Producer Of The Year.
Other big winners for artistic achievement in America’s bicentennial year included George Benson who won three GRAMMYs, including Record Of The Year for his breakthrough hit “This Masquerade” and Best Pop Instrumental Performance for his Breezin’ album. Benson also got to team up with a characteristically witty Richard Pryor to present the GRAMMY for Best Jazz Vocal Performance to no less a legend than Ella Fitzgerald for Fitzgerald And Pass…Again.
Other notable presenters included Gladys Knight And The Pips who offered a salute to one of The Academy’s chapter cities—Atlanta—that even included a little “Midnight Train To Georgia.” Ringo Starr and Paul Williams had a great deal of fun presenting the GRAMMY for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, to Linda Ronstadt for Hasten Down The Wind. The pair tap danced their way to the podium where Starr said of the diminutive Williams, “Well, they promised me Paul Newman and look what I got.” And best of all was Bette Midler who helped turn the mood around after Wonder’s performance from a distance didn’t pan out. After wrapping part of what looked to be the 100-foot train of her dress around her head and declaring herself “The Ghost of GRAMMYs Past,” the Divine Miss M noted, “It’s always nice to visit L.A.—the home of absolutely nothing. Except, of course, the music business—a business in which you are only as good as your last two minutes and 42 seconds.”