Grammy Awards History: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Music’s Biggest Award Show


Since being given away at its first awards ceremony in 1958, the Grammy has been the pre-eminent prize bestowed by the US music industry, and the 53rd annual Grammy Awards, to be held in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, once again promises to be a gala steeped in emotion, surprises and unique performances. Accordingly, i present to you my wide-ranging Grammys guide, containing facts, factoids and factual oddities that all add up to a step-by-step history of the Grammy Awards.


Originally known as the Gramophone Awards, the Grammys were established in 1958, with just 22 categories.

The “Big Four” Grammy Awards are for Album, Song, Record and Best New Artist of the Year.

Besides the “general” field of the top honors, there are typically about 30 other fields each year, broken down by genre (pop, rock, country, Latin, etc.). More than 100 Grammys are awarded each year, most of them before the televised ceremony.

Song of the Year is awarded to the writer or co-writers of the year’s outstanding song. Record of the Year goes to the best song recording of the year; recipients are the performer and producers. The two can be, and often are, mutually exclusive.

Grammy voters are the members of NARAS: the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences – more than 20,000 musicians, producers, engineers and other music-industry professionals based in the US.

Record companies and individual performers are welcome to submit their own recordings for consideration. A special panel of NARAS members starts the nomination process by determining whether each submission is eligible.

The release-date eligibility period for a given year’s awards can change slightly from year to year. The eligibility period for the last awards show, the 52nd annual, in January 2010, was from Oct. 1, 2008 until Aug. 31, 2009. The period covered by the current 53rd Grammy Awards is from Sept. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010.

U2 have had songs from their album ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ nominated in three consecutive years (2001-’03). The ‘Beautiful Day’ single, which won three Grammys in 2001, was released in advance of the album, in September 2000. The album was released a month later, making it eligible for the 2002 Grammys (where it won four awards). The song ‘Walk On’ was nominated a year after that for the version featured on the ‘America: A Tribute to Heroes’ compilation.

There are 12 NARAS chapters in the US, in Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta, Memphis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Florida, Texas, the Northwest region and Washington, DC.

Nominees are the five biggest vote-getters in each category in the initial round of voting. NARAS members cast their ballots for the Big Four and in nine other fields, according to their areas of expertise.

On the final ballot, NARAS members vote for one nominee in each of the general (Big Four) fields and no more than eight others, according to their expertise.

Classical conductor Sir Georg Solti holds the record with 31 personal Grammy awards. Producer Quincy Jones is second with 27.

Bluegrass singer Alison Krauss has won 27 Grammy awards, the most for a female performer. After opera singer Leontyne Price’s 19 wins, Aretha Franklin is third with 18. Beyoncé has 16.

The late classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz won 25 Grammys, most for a male performer. Stevie Wonder is second with 22, the most for a pop artist. Bruce Springsteen, soundtrack composer Henry Mancini and country’s Vince Gill are tied for third with 20 apiece.

Both Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney have 13 Grammy awards, good only for ninth place on the all-time list.

Michael Jackson shares the record with Santana for most Grammy awards (eight) won in a single night.

U2 have by far the most Grammy awards of any group (22). The Beatles are tied for fourth with Santana, Metallica and Take 6, all with eight apiece.

Christopher Cross is the only artist ever to sweep the Big Four categories in a single year. No other artist has won awards in all four categories.

Santana’s ‘Supernatural’ and U2’s ‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’ share the record for most Grammys won by a single album, with nine apiece.

Polka bandleader Jimmy Sturr won 18 of the 24 Best Polka Album Grammys handed out between 1985, when the award was created, and 2009, when it was discontinued.

A NARAS committee reviews proposals to change Grammy categories each year.

Quincy Jones has the most total nominations of all time, with 79. Husband-and-wife Jay-Z and Beyoncé are tied for fourth, with 42 nominations apiece.

R&B singer Brian McKnight holds the dubious record of most nominations without winning, with 16.

In 1960, comedian Bob Newhart won in both the Album of the Year and Best New Artist categories.

Elvis Presley has won just three Grammy awards, all for gospel recordings. He did, however, win a Lifetime Achievement award – at age 36.

Milli Vanilli were the only act to have a Grammy award (for Best New Artist) taken away.

Sinéad O’Connor is the only artist to refuse a Grammy.

What do the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, the Who, Neil Young, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, the Kinks and Bob Marley have in common? None won a competitive Grammy award. (Most of them have won Grammy Lifetime Achievement awards.)


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