The Grammy Hosts

When LL Cool J hits the Grammy stage on Feb. 12, it will mark the first time the Grammys have had a host since Queen Latifah hosted the show in 2005. (In the intervening years, they've gone with what they call a "host-less format," where various celebrities open and close the show and fulfill other host functions. It's supposed to be save a little time, but it always just looks like they couldn't find a host.)

Both LL and Latifah are former Grammy winners. LL won Best Rap Solo Performance for 1991's "Mama Said Knock You Out" and 1996's "Hey Lover." Latifah won in the same category for 1994's "U.N.I.T.Y." It's interesting that both of the last two hosts started out as rappers, though both are now multi-media stars. Since 2009, LL has been one of the stars of NCIS: Los Angeles. Latifah has appeared in many movies, including Jungle Fever, Hairspray and Chicago, for which she received an Oscar nomination.

Three previous Grammy hosts had also won Grammys prior to their hosting stints. Kenny Rogers, who hosted the show in 1980 and 1986, had won Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, for his 1977 hit "Lucille." He won in that category again for "The Gambler" on the night he first hosted the show. (It's the only time that a host has won a Grammy that same night.) Rogers went on to win a third Grammy for a 1987 collabo with Ronnie Milsap.

Paul Simon, who hosted the show the show in 1981, is true Grammy royalty. He had won 14 Grammys at that point and has since won two more.

Whoopi Goldberg, who hosted the Grammys four times, starting in 1992, had won a Grammy for Best Comedy Recording for her 1985 album Whoopi Goldberg. The album documented her one-woman Broadway show which ran for 156 performances in 1984-1985.

Two Grammy hosts won Grammys only after their hosting years. Jon Stewart, who hosted the show in 2001 and 2002, won for his 2004 album America: A Citizens Guide To Democracy Inaction and his 2010 album Earth (The Audiobook). The albums are similar in format, but won in different categories. The first won for Best Comedy Album; the second for Best Spoken Word Album.

The other Grammy host to win only after his hosting years was John Denver, who hosted six times, starting in 1978. Sadly, his only Grammy win came four months after he died in a 1997 plane crash. That posthumous award came in February 1998 (20 years and two days after he first hosted the show) for Best Musical Album For Children for All Aboard!

All the other Grammy hosts have yet to hear their name called out as a Grammy winner.

Andy Williams

hosted the first seven live shows, starting in 1971. If you're under 50, you would have no way of knowing how hot Williams was in his heyday. Between 1962 and 1972, he released 17 gold albums and starred in two TV variety series (that ran for a total of seven seasons).

Williams' TV stardom was a key factor which enabled producer Pierre Cossette to sell a live Grammy broadcast to television. By 1977, the last year Williams hosted, he was well past his prime as both a TV and recording star, which prompted the shift to Denver, who was then seen as much more contemporary.

The four men who hosted the first 16 live Grammy telecasts were all major recording stars. Simon had won Album of the Year twice (once with Simon & Garfunkel). Williams, Denver and Rogers had all been nominated for that top award. Williams was nominated for 1963's Days Of Wine And Roses; Denver for 1974's Back Home Again and Rogers for 1979's The Gambler.

In 1987, the Grammys shifted from musical stars to stand-up comedians as hosts. Billy Crystal hosted the show three times, starting that year. He was followed by Garry Shandling (four shows starting in 1990), Whoopi Goldberg (the 1992 show), Paul Reiser (the 1995 show), Ellen DeGeneres (1996 and 1997), Rosie O'Donnell (1999 and 2000) and Jon Stewart (2001 and 2002).

Four of these hosts (Crystal, Goldberg, Stewart and DeGeneres) subsequently stepped up to hosting the Oscars. You could say that the Grammys were the "host proving ground" for these comics, who have hosted the Oscars a combined total of 16 times (counting Crystal's upcoming return gig).

The oddest choice ever to host the Grammys was Kelsey Grammer, who hosted the 1998 show. Unlike the five previous hosts, Grammer didn't have a background as a stand-up comedian. He was an actor on an Emmy-winning sitcom, Frasier, which was then in its fifth season. No word on whether Grammer whipped up any "tossed salads and scrambled eggs" for the Grammy after-party.

A Personal Note: In 1978, I did a "Day in the Life" feature for Billboard in which I followed Grammy producer Pierre Cossette around on Grammy day. During a break in rehearsals, I chatted with John Denver, who was hosting the show for the first time. Somehow, we got around to his spotty Grammy track record. When he lamented that he had never had much luck at the Grammys, I reminded him that he had been nominated for Album of the Year three years before. He had completely forgotten and seemed genuinely gratified to hear the "news."