Sunday would have been Elvis Presley's 77th birthday. The Recording Academy didn't give Elvis many presents (he won just three Grammys, all for gospel recordings), but in 1971 they enabled him to set a Grammy record that will probably stand forever. They gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award when he was just 36 years old. Presley was (and remains) the youngest living artist to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. The Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder, the next youngest living artists to receive Lifetime Achievement Awards, were in their mid-40s when they received the honor.
I say "living artist" to distinguish Presley, the Stones and Wonder from the many artists who have received posthumous Lifetime Achievement Awards. Three years ago, I made a list of 22 artists who died before their 50th birthdays who later received Lifetime Achievement Awards. (If you missed the list, which included such artists as Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Robert Johnson and Janis Joplin, here's a link.)
But those artists had died. The academy's only choice was whether to give them this top award or not. With Presley, the Stones and Wonder, the academy could have waited until they were more advanced in years, but decided that their contributions were so important, there was no need to wait.
The academy gave Presley the award in part to make up for past slights. Presley was never nominated for Album of the Year and received just two nominations for Record of the Year. In any event, it's a good thing that the academy gave Presley the honor at such a young age. He died a little more than six years later, in August 1977.
Here's a list of the youngest living artists (or groups) to have received Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards. They are ranked by their age when they received the honor.
1. Elvis Presley. The king of rock and roll was just 36 when he received the honor in March 1971. He had been a finalist for Record of the Year with 1959's "(Now And Then There's) A Fool Such As I" and 1960's "Are You Lonesome To-night?."
2. The Rolling Stones. The surviving members of the legendary rock and roll band were mostly in their 40s when they received the honor in February 1986. Ronnie Wood was 38, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were each 42, Charlie Watts was 44 and Bill Wyman was 49. The Stones had been nominated for Album of the Year for 1978's Some Girls.
3. Stevie Wonder. The Motown legend was 45 when he received the honor in February 1996. Wonder had won Album of the Year with three consecutive releases in the 1970s: Innervisions, Fulfillingness' First Finale and Songs In The Key Of Life. Nobody else has ever achieved that feat.
4. Paul McCartney. The still Fab ex-Beatle was 47 when he received the honor in February 1990. The Beatles had won for Best New Artist in 1964 and Album of the Year for 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. McCartney and John Lennon had taken Song of the Year for 1966's wistful "Michelle." Also, the Beatles had received a Trustees Award in 1972.
5. Frank Sinatra. Ol' Blue Eyes was a not-so-old 49 (and four months) when he received the honor in April 1965. He had won Album of the Year for 1959's Come Dance With Me! and would win again for 1965's September Of My Years and 1966's A Man And His Music. He would also win Record of the Year for 1966's sumptuous "Strangers In The Night." The academy would give him two other career awards: a Trustees Award in 1979 and a Grammy Legend Award in 1994.
6. Bob Dylan. The rock legend was 49 (and eight months) when he received the honor in February 1991. He had shared in the Album of the Year prize for 1972's The Concert For Bangla Desh and would win it by himself for 1997's Time Out Of Mind.
7. Ella Fitzgerald. "The First Lady of Song" was 49 (and 10 months) when she received the award in 1967. She was the youngest woman and the youngest jazz artist ever to receive the award. She had been nominated for Album of the Year for 1958's Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Irving Berlin Song Book, which was part of her acclaimed Song Book series.
8. Aretha Franklin. The eternal Queen of Soul was 51 when she received the honor in March 1994. She had received a Grammy Legend Award in 1991.
9. Curtis Mayfield. The former leader of the Impressions was 52 (and eight months) when he received the honor in March 1995. He had received a Grammy Legend Award in 1994.
10. Barbra Streisand. The legendary star was 52 (and 10 months) when she received the honor in March 1995. She had won Album of the Year for her eponymous 1963 debut album and Song of the Year for 1977's silky "Evergreen (Love Theme From 'A Star Is Born')." She had received a Grammy Legend Award in 1992.
11. Al Green. The R&B-turned-gospel star was 55 when he received the honor in February 2002.
12. The Who. The surviving members of the classic British rock band were in their 50s when they received the honor in February 2001. Pete Townshend was 55. Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle were each 56.
13. Ray Charles. The genre-bridging musical genius was 56 when he received the honor in February 1987. He had been nominated for Record of the Year in for 1960's "Georgia On My Mind" and 1962's "I Can't Stop Loving You." He had been nominated for Album of the Year for 1961's Genius + Soul = Jazz and 1962's Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music. He would finally win in both categories for markedly less classic works in 2004, the year after his death.
14. Led Zeppelin. The surviving members of the legendary hard rock band were mostly in their 50s when they received the honor in February 2005. Robert Plant was 56, John Paul Jones was 59 and Jimmy Page was 61. Led Zeppelin had been nominated as Best New Artist of 1969. Plant would win both Album of the Year and Record of the Year for his 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss.
15. Chuck Berry. The rock and roll pioneer was 57 (and four months) when he received the honor in February 1984.
16. Jessye Norman. The opera star was 57 (and five months) when she received the honor in February 2006. She got it at a younger age than any other classical artist.
17. Joni Mitchell. The acclaimed singer/songwriter was 58 (and three months) when she received the honor in February 2002. She had been nominated for Album of the Year for 2007's Court And Spark. She would win in the same category for her role on Herbie Hancock's 2007 album based on her songs, River: The Joni Letters.
18. James Brown. The "Godfather of Soul" was 58 (and nine months) when he received the honor in February 1992.
19. Fats Domino. The R&B piano man was 58 (and 11 months) when he received the honor in February 1987.
20. The Beach Boys. The surviving members of the classic American pop group were in their late 50s when they received the honor in February 2001. Brian Wilson and Al Jardine were both 58. Mike Love was 59.
21. The Everly Brothers. Phil and Don, who formed one of the most successful and influential duos in music history,were 58 and 60, respectively, when they got the honor in February 1997.
22. Smokey Robinson. The gifted songwriter and former leader of the Miracles had just turned 59 when he received the honor in February 1999. Robinson had received a Grammy Legend Award in 1990.
23. David Bowie. The ground-breaking musical and visual artist was 59 (and one month) when he received the honor in February 2006. He had been nominated for Album of the Year for 1983's Let's Dance.
More On Elvis: If you're wondering, Elvis' only recordings to win Grammys in regular competition were How Great Thou Art (Best Sacred Performance of 1967), He Touched Me (Best Inspirational Performance of 1972) and "How Great Thou Art" (Best Inspirational Performance of 1974).
For the record, Elvis' early work, including such monster hits as "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog," pre-dated the inception of the Grammy Awards in 1958. A box set featuring Presley's 1956 recordings, Young Man With The Big Beat: The Complete '56 Elvis Presley Masters, is a Grammy finalist for Best Historical Album this year.