The opening list of talent for the 24th Annual GRAMMY Awards spoke to the musical and generational diversity of the show that would soon follow. After all, what other internationally televised event might conceivably and credibly bring together Carol Channing and Adam Ant? Ted Nugent and Ben Vereen? Rick James and Harry James? Only the GRAMMYs — and only this one.
The winners too were decidedly diverse and multigenerational. Even though she was not present, this was a big night for the legendary Lena Horne — the recording from her big Broadway comeback Lena Horne — The Lady And Her Music, Live On Broadway won Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, as well as Best Cast Show Album for its producer, Quincy Jones.
The 24th GRAMMY show would also be an exceptional evening for Jones who chose to make Horne’s album the very first release on his new Qwest Records label. To top it off, Jones himself also won Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for his album The Dude, as well as two separate GRAMMYs for arranging on that album — one with Johnny Mandel (for “Velas”) and the other with Jerry Hey (for “Ai No Corrida”). Meanwhile, Jones’ protégé James Ingram — who gave the first performance of the night, singing “Just Once” with Jones conducting — took home the GRAMMY for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male, for “One Hundred Ways,” which he sang on The Dude. Yet the highlight of the night for Jones was likely the experience of finally winning his first — but not last — GRAMMY as Producer Of The Year. After a lengthy standing ovation, Jones explained with a big smile on his face, “Man, when I started waiting for this award I had long flowing hair and a thin waistline like James Ingram.”
A new wind was blowing in the music industry: MTV launched the previous year (Aug. 1, 1981), and its influence could be seen on a number of winners who had enjoyed big videos along with big radio hits: “Bette Davis Eyes” won Record Of The Year for its singer Kim Carnes and producer Val Garay, and Song Of The Year for its writers Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss; Rick Springfield won the GRAMMY for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male, for “Jessie’s Girl,” triumphing over Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, Rick James and Gary U.S. Bonds; and the videogenic Sheena Easton was named the year’s Best New Artist. In its debut year, the category of Video Of The Year went to Michael Nesmith In Elephant Parts, a fitting award for the former star of “The Monkees.”
One of the night’s breakout performances, however, came from a decidedly pre-MTV performer. As part of an uplifting gospel-themed segment also featuring the Reverend Al Green and the Archers, Joe Cocker took the stage to sing a lived-in version of “I’m So Glad I’m Standing Here Today” with the Crusaders — a standout track from that group’s Standing Tall album. Cocker and the Crusaders did not win that award, but Cocker’s heartfelt performance earned a tremendous ovation and later helped inspire director Taylor Hackford to have Cocker sing what would be his comeback smash — “Up Where We Belong” with Jennifer Warnes for the soundtrack of An Officer And A Gentleman.
Another notable, and in this case suitably super freaky, performance came from Rick James, who show host John Denver introduced thusly: “First there was rock. Then there was hard rock. Then there was punk rock, and now thanks mainly to our next performer, there’s punk funk. You have to watch how you say that on television.” The punk funk of James’ “Give It To Me Baby” tore up the stage, with James himself taking turns at the drums and a nearly collapsing keyboard.
Yet there was little doubt that the most moving moment of the night came when the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year was awarded to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy album. “I really don’t know what to say,” said Ono, who was joined onstage by her and Lennon’s young son Sean (as well as producer Jack Douglas). “I think John is here with us today. Both John and I were always very proud and happy that we were part of the human race. He made good music for the earth and for the universe.” Indeed he did.