Grammy Preview: Producer of the Year

Paul Grein
Stop The Presses!

Kathryn Bigelow made Oscar history three years ago when she became the first woman to win for Best Achievement in Directing. By contrast, a woman has yet to win a Grammy as Producer of the Year. (A movie director and a record producer both take the lead in setting the overall creative direction.)

It won’t happen this year, either. Five men are competing for Producer of the Year (Non Classical): Dan Auerbach (whose credits during the year included his own band, The Black Keys, and Dr. John), Jeff Bhasker (who produces fun.), Diplo (whose credits included Usher’s “Climax” and Alex Clare’s “Too Close”), Markus Dravs (whose credits included albums by Mumford & Sons and Coldplay) and Salaam Remi (whose credits included Nas’ Life Is Good and “Girl On Fire” by Alicia Keys featuring Nicki Minaj).

The picture changes if you look at nominations instead of awards. Six women have been nominated for the Grammy for Producer of the Year, compared to just four that have been nominated for the Oscar for directing.

Janet Jackson was the first woman to receive a Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year. She scored, along with her collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, for 1989—the year of her hit-laden album Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. Jackson won her first Grammy that year for Best Music Video—Long Form for her video of the same name.

Mariah Carey was the second woman to receive a Producer of the Year nomination. She scored, along with her collaborator, Walter Afanasieff, for 1991—the year of her sophomore album, Emotions.

Paula Cole was third, and the first woman to score on her own (without a collaborator). She was nominated for 1997, the year of her top 10 hit “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” Cole was nominated for each of the “Big Four” awards that year—Album, Record and Song of the Year and Best New Artist. (She won the latter award, but hard a hard time following this burst of acclaim.)

In 1998, for the first (and only) time, two women made the Producer of the Year finals: Sheryl Crow and Lauryn Hill. Hill won five Grammys that year, including Album of the Year for The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. Crow won one—Best Rock Album for The Globe Sessions. (It was also nominated for Album of the Year.)

The sixth and most recent instance of a woman making the Producer of the Year finals occurred in 2003, when Lauren Christy of The Matrix was nominated. The Matrix was also nominated for Song of the Year that year for “I’m With You,” which they co-wrote with Avril Lavigne.

The four women who have been nominated for Oscars for directing are Lina Wertmuller (1976’s Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (1993’s The Piano), Sofia Coppola (2003’s Lost In Translation) and Bigelow (2009’s The Hurt Locker).

African Americans have done vastly better in the Grammy competition for Producer of the Year than they have in the Oscar directing category. Fourteen African Americans have won as Producer of the Year. By contrast, no African Americans have won for directing. In fact, only two have even been nominated. John Singleton was nominated for 1991’s Boyz N The Hood. Lee Daniels was nominated for 2009’s Precious: Based On The Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire.

Here’s a final comparison between the Oscars and the Grammys. Nine of the winners for Producer of the Year have been collaborations of two or more individuals. Just two of the winners for directing have been collaborations.

Bee Gees, Albhy Galuten & Karl Richardson were the first collaboration to take Producer of the Year. They won for 1978, the year of Saturday Night Fever, which also won as Album of the Year.

The two collaborations to win Oscars for directing are Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, who won for directing 1961’s West Side Story, and Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, who won for 2007’s No Country For Old Men.

Thom Bell was the first producer to win a Grammy for Producer of the Year. He took the award for 1974, when he dominated pop and R&B radio with such classy hits as the Spinners’ “Mighty Love,” the Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New” and “Then Came You” by Dionne Warwicke & the Spinners. (Warwick added an “e” to her last name for a couple of years.)

Quincy Jones was the first two-time winner in the category and also the first three-time winner. He won for the second time for 1983, the year of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and for the third time for 1990, the year of his own Back On The Block. Both albums were voted Album of the Year.

Babyface was the first (and remains the only) four-time winner for Producer of the Year. He won for the fourth time for 1997, the year of his album The Day, which was an Album of the Year finalist. (Babyface is also the only producer to win back-to-back awards for Producer of the Year. And you could say he won “back-to-back-to-back” awards. He won three years in a row from 1995 through 1997.)

Trailing Babyface on the list of multiple winners are David Foster and Jones, with three wins each; and Rick Rubin, Arif Mardin and Peter Asher, with two wins each.

Mardin holds the record for the longest span of Producer of the Year awards. He first won for 1975 (the year of Bee Gees’ album Main Course) and again for 2002 (the year of Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me). Mardin also set a record in 2002 as the oldest winner of Producer of the Year. He was 70 at the time. Mardin, a producer of exceptional taste and range, died in 2006.

The youngest musicians to win as Producer of the Year were Steve Lukather and Steve Porcaro of Toto and Michael Jackson, all of whom were just 25 when they won. Others who won before their 30th birthdays are Stevie Wonder (26), Jimmy Jam (27), David Paich and Jeff Porcaro of Toto (28), Chad Hugo of the Neptunes (29) and Maurice Gibb and Robin Gibb of Bee Gees (29).

Jam & Lewis have received the most nominations for Producer of the Year—11. Foster and Jones are runners-up, with eight each. Others with five or more nominations are Babyface, with six, and Danger Mouse, Rubin, and Nigel Godrich, with five each. (Godrich, best known for his work with Radiohead, holds the distinction of the most nominations without a win.)

There have been two ties for Producer of the Year. Foster tied with James Anthony Carmichael & Lionel Richie for 1984. Babyface & L.A. Reid tied with Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois for 1992.

Here’s a chronological list of winners for Producers of the Year (Non Classical):

The 1970s—1974: Thom Bell; 1975: Arif Mardin; 1976: Stevie Wonder; 1977: Peter Asher; 1978: Bee Gees, Albhy Galuten & Karl Richardson; 1979: Larry Butler.

The 1980s—1980: Phil Ramone; 1981: Quincy Jones; 1982: Toto; 1983: Michael Jackson & Quincy Jones; 1984: David Foster; 1984: James Anthony Carmichael & Lionel Richie; 1985: Phil Collins & Hugh Padgham; 1986: Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis; 1987: Narada Michael Walden; 1988: Neil Dorfsman; 1989: Peter Asher.

The 1990s—1990: Quincy Jones; 1991: David Foster; 1992: Babyface & L.A. Reid, 1992: Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois; 1993: David Foster; 1994: Don Was; 1995: Babyface; 1996: Babyface; 1997: Babyface; 1998: Rob Cavallo; 1999: Walter Afanasieff.

The 2000s—2000: Dr. Dre; 2001: T Bone Burnett; 2002: Arif Mardin; 2003: The Neptunes; 2004: John Shanks; 2005: Steve Lillywhite; 2006: Rick Rubin; 2007: Mark Ronson; 2008: Rick Rubin; 2009: Brendan O’Brien.

The 2010s—2010: Danger Mouse; 2011: Paul Epworth.