One day after Bob Dylan made headlines with a fascinating speech at the MusiCares Person of the Year event, Barry Gibb delivered an emotional and deeply personal speech at the Grammy Special Merit Awards. Gibb was there to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award for Bee Gees, the brother trio which scored top 10 hits in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
Gibb, 68, is the only surviving member of the trio. His younger twins Maurice and Robin died in 2003 and 2012, respectively. Their youngest brother Andy, who was a solo star in the late ’70s, preceded them all in death in 1988.
Gibb noted, “Andy wanted to be a Bee Gee, but he was a little too young. We never thought of ourselves as Bee Gees—we thought of ourselves as the four brothers. Me being the eldest, I was always watching out for the rest of them. And I miss them very much … I always imagined we would sit around in our 80s and laugh and joke. But it just didn’t work out that way….I think I’ve had enough of death to last me a lifetime.”
Gibb praised impresario Robert Stigwood, who brought them Saturday Night Fever and Grease (Barry wrote the title song of the latter film). “Robert presented us with those opportunities. When you see it, grab it, because it goes away real quick.”
Maurice Gibb’s son Adam accepted the award on behalf of his father.
Many consider the Special Merit Awards, which were held on Saturday at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles, to be the highlight of Grammy week. Where the Grammys have become big and brash, the Merit Awards are an intimate affair. The honorees almost always show up to receive their awards. For honorees that have passed on, their children or other family members accept for them.
Dhani Harrison accepted the award for his father, George Harrison, who died in 2001. Dhani, who has subbed for his father on various music projects since 2002’s Concert For George, noted, “He did everything with a big, open heart and lots of love … He taught me that anything can be accomplished as long as you set out to do it with love.”
Harrison is the third former member of the Beatles to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Paul McCartney was the first in 1990, followed by John Lennon the following year. Harrison was inevitably overshadowed as a songwriter by Lennon and McCartney, but came into his own in 1969 with “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun.”
Songwriters Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil and producer Richard Perry were among the Trustees Award winners, which are designated for non-performers.
Mann, 75, and Weil, 74, who have been married since 1961, were among the hottest songwriters in the Brill Building scene of the early 1960s, along with Carole King and Gerry Goffin (who received a Trustees Award in 2004). Mann & Weil have written or co-written such classics as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “On Broadway” and “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” but they were often in the shadow of Goffin & King. This overdue Grammy honor confirms that they are more appropriately viewed as Goffin & King’s peers and equals.
"Thank you for recognizing it all begins with a song," Weil said in accepting the honor. Mann added, "I’m damn sure I wouldn’t be standing on this stage without my writing partner and the love of my life."
Grammy Trivia: Mann and Weil are the third married or once-married couple to receive a Trustees Award, following Goffin & King (who were married from 1959 to 1969) and Marilyn and Alan Bergman (who have been married since 1958).
Though he is among the most successful producers in pop history, Perry, 72, has never won a Grammy in competition. His biggest hits include Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and Nilsson’s “Without You,” both of which were nominated for Record of the Year. Perry also produced hits for such artists as the Pointer Sisters, Leo Sayer, Barbra Streisand and Ringo Starr.
"There is no greater thrill than hearing a playback in the studio, after a few hours of work, and have it sound as good as it did in your dreams," he said. While he was on stage, Perry’s girlfriend of six years, actress Jane Fonda, snapped his photo with her smartphone.
Bee Gees aren’t the only all-brother vocal team to be honored this year. The Louvin Brothers, which consisted of brothers Ira and Charlie Loudermilk, were also selected. The team had a string of country hits in the 1950s and 1960s and influenced such artists as Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Ira died in 1965; Charlie in 2011. Their award was accepted by Ira’s daughters and Charlie’s son.
The Recording Academy also presented Lifetime Achievement Awards to classical conductor and composer Pierre Boulez, 89; blues guitarist Buddy Guy, 78; jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, 81; and Tex-Mex accordionist Flaco Jiménez, 75.
Boulez, who has been ill, was the only living recipient who did not appear to accept his award. Boulez, who served as musical director of the New York Philharmonic from 1971 to 1977, has amassed 26 Grammys. That total is matched or exceeded by only three individuals in Grammy history: classical conductor Georg Solti (31), Quincy Jones (27) and Alison Krauss (27).
Jazz promoter and producer George Wein, 89, also received a Trustees Award. Wein founded the Newport Jazz Festival, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in August. Wein founded the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival (where, famously, Dylan went electric in July 1965).
The Recording Academy presented a Technical Grammy to Ray Kurzweil, 66, an author, computer scientist and inventor who is currently director of engineering at Google. Technical Grammys are presented to individuals and companies who have made contributions of technical significance to the recording field.
The second annual Music Educator Award went to Jared Cassedy, a high school music teacher from New Hampshire.