The Recording Academy — the organization that presents the Grammy awards — honored the musical achievements of Alison Krauss, Earl Scruggs, Tim McGraw and BeBe and CeCe Winans Monday evening (Nov. 7) with a banquet and show Loews Vanderbilt Plaza in Nashville.
Featuring vocally dramatic performances by Larry Sparks, Charlie Daniels, Martina McBride, Yolanda Adams, Ruben Stoddard, Dionne Warwick and Bob Bailey, the event was magical, even by Nashville’s lofty standards. It also returned the spotlight to three-time Grammy-winner K. T. Oslin, about whom little has been heard these past several years. Best known for her 1987 hit, “80′s Ladies,” Oslin hosted the nearly two-hour show and came very close to stealing it without singing a note.
The show was built around the concept that each of the honorees would choose one person to introduce them and another to perform one of their favorite songs. There were two last-minute substitutions. O Brother, Where Art Thou? and I Walk the Line soundtrack producer T Bone Burnett, who was originally scheduled to introduce Krauss, had to cancel, leaving that chore to Dobro master Jerry Douglas, now a separately billed member of Krauss’ band. Gladys Knight had been picked to present the Winans but bowed out to care for her ill daughter. Warwick stepped in for her.
“Because you’re such an in crowd,” Oslin told the approximately 600 celebrants, “I thought I’d share with you the evening of my first Grammy win.” With that, she embarked on one of the most convoluted and funniest accounts in the history of that most coveted award. It began, she said, on a cold February evening in 1988 in New York City, where the Grammy show was being held that year and where Oslin had a “small and shabby” apartment.
Excited by her nomination and the chance to attend the show, Oslin said she had bought “the most expensive dress I’d ever had.” Then 47 years old, she had also picked up at a nearby discount drug store a cosmetic substance called Line Filler and had slathered it on her face in the desperate hope that it lived up to its name. After a friend had forcefully laced her into her new dress, Oslin said she looked in the mirror and discovered to her horror that the Line Filler had turned a ghastly white, “like joint compound.”
After she’d scrubbed her face and made last-minute repairs, she said she waited for the limo that her manager, Stan Moress, had promised her. It never came. However, Moress also managed Miami Sound Machine at the time. So he summoned it to pick up Oslin. When she entered the car, however, she found not the band itself but rather the band members’ wives and girlfriends. “It was like jumping into a mosh pit of Latin estrogen,” she groaned.
Because country music was not exactly a hot property in the late 1980s, Oslin discovered that even though she had won the best female country vocalist award, it would be presented offstage instead of on national television. So much for the new dress.
Still, there was the after-show party. “It was just like the movies,” she recalled, “only not.” When she got there, she was suddenly embraced and kissed by David Johansen (a.k.a Buster Poindexter) of the New York Dolls, a man she had never met before. This gesture later led, she said, to a tabloid story that the two were a romantic item.
There was still no limo at her disposal when she decided to leave the party. So Oslin hailed a cab and went home. “This is a new life,” she said she told herself, “I’m somebody!” Then she realized she couldn’t get her tight dress off on her own.
One more indignity awaited her, she said. Instead of getting a gift bag filled with expensive goodies, one of the usual perks for major award-show nominees, Oslin received at her apartment two weeks later a huge box of Eveready batteries of all sizes. “I didn’t buy a battery for the next four years,” she said.
Douglas offered a brief summary of Krauss’ career, aided by a video that carried canned congratulations from such luminaries as Dolly Parton and Merle Haggard. Krauss, the video summarized, has released 11 albums that have sold more than 7 million copies. She has won 17 Grammys, more than any other woman in the award’s history.
Stating that Sparks is “one of Alison’s favorite singers,” Douglas called the two-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s male vocalist of the year prize to the stage. The song Krauss had requested was the bluegrass standard, “Doin’ My Time,” and the crowd began cheering Sparks when he sang the first line. Backing him was an all-star band that included fiddler Stuart Duncan, banjoist Ron Block (from Union Station), mandolinist Sierra Hull and bassist Dennis Crouch. Sparks finished to a standing ovation.
“I never thought I’d ever do anything like this,” said Krauss as she accepted her award. “I never thought I’d do this for a living.” Usually funny and flippant, Krauss was in tears when she thanked her parents, who were in the audience, for introducing her to bluegrass music. Then, returning to form, she quipped, “That video was so touching I almost got sick. . . . I still want to be Larry Sparks fiddle player.”
Randy and Gary Scruggs presented their father, Earl Scruggs, for his honor, pointing out that the 81-year-old revolutionary banjo stylist continues to perform. Gary announced that Dec. 8 will mark the 60th anniversary of Scruggs’ first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, initially as a member of Bill Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys.
The accompanying video showed footage of the honoree as half of the trailblazing team, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys. It chronicled their appearances on The Beverly Hillbillies (a role that helped make them the most famous and influential band in bluegrass music) and on the soundtrack of the movie Bonnie & Clyde. Scruggs was touted for originating the distinctive “syncopated three-finger picking style” that became the model for all subsequent bluegrass banjoists and for inventing the “Scruggs tuner,” a device that enables the player to change and restore a string’s pitch for special effects mid-song.
When Charlie Daniels came up to sing for Scruggs, he began by recalling how difficult it was for him to get a foothold when he first came to Nashville from his native North Carolina, which is also Scruggs’ home state. “Earl Scruggs and his family,” said Daniels, “took me under their wings and made me feel a part of this community.” He added that he had first played the Opry as a part of the Earl Scruggs Revue, the band Scruggs formed with his sons after he split with Lester Flatt.
Then, backed by the house band, Daniels sang a growling, bluesy version of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm.” He dedicated it to Louise Scruggs, Earl’s wife and manager, who was ill and unable to attend. The notoriously close-mouthed Scruggs smiled broadly when he came to the stage. Withdrawing a paper from his pocket, he read, “It’s hard to believe I’m 81 years old. I don’t feel a day over 80.” He thanked Louise “for all the love and support she’s given me,” and ended his remarks with a joke he has used for years. Getting this honor, he said, was “like writing home for 5 [dollars] and you get 10. You can’t beat that.”
Faith Hill appeared next to introduce her husband, McGraw. She noted that she and McGraw had won their first Grammy for the intimate duet, “Let’s Make Love.” The supporting video enumerated McGraw’s two Grammys, 25 chart-topping singles, 33 million albums sold and his extensive charity work.
Hill brought McBride to the stage to sing one of McGraw’s many hits and one of his personal favorites, Rodney Crowell’s “Please Remember Me.” “What a God-given voice,” Hill marveled after McBride took her bow to a standing ovation. “And,” said Hill, “she’s a hell of a woman.”
Bidding McGraw to join her on stage, Hill said, “As an artist, he is inspiring; as a performer, he is unparalleled; as a human being, he stands the tallest.” To which McGraw responded, “God, she makes me look good.” He then acknowledged his band, the Dance Hall Doctors, and his producer, Byron Gallimore. “This is a great honor,” he said, “but I believe I’m just getting started. . . . Stick with me and in another 20 years, maybe that video will have some more stuff on it.”
Warwick was the evening’s final presenter. In introducing her, Oslin noted, “For years, she’s been on the frontline in the fight against AIDS.” She cited Warwick’s many pop hits, including “Walk on By,” “Message to Michael,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and her trademark, “That’s What Friends Are For.” Warwick explained Knight’s absence to the crowd and asked for its prayers for Knight’s ailing daughter.
While Nashville is known for its country music, Warwick said, it is also a center for gospel music, the vehicle expanded enormously by the works of brother and sister BeBe and CeCe Winans. Their laudatory video opened with congratulations to BeBe from John Travolta and went on to cite their development as members of the large and ultra-talented Winans family. It spotlighted their collaborations with pop and R&B superstars, among them Whitney Houston, and noted that the two have released 11 solo and six duo albums.
“We’ve had a great time singing together and apart and we plan on singing together again,” CeCe said. BeBe dedicated their win to their late brother, Ron, who died earlier this year. “We know he’s looking down on this,” he said.
Adams and Stoddard dazzled the crowd with a ping-ponging medley of songs the Winans have recorded — specifically “Addictive Love,” “Lost Without You” and the Staples Singers’ classic, “I’ll Take You There.”
Warwick then returned to the stage. She observed that the room was filled with “a community of friends who care, love and give to each other.” On that cue, the band struck up “That’s What Friends Are For,” which Warwick sang with great finesse and restraint, while Bailey provided a blistering, crowd-exciting vocal counterpoint.
Oslin wrapped up the evening by bidding the audience goodbye.