Winning Isn’t Everything

Paul Grein
Stop The Presses!

Wednesday's TV special on which the annual Grammy nominations will be announced will inadvertently offer a little useful perspective—winning isn't everything. The show will feature a live performance of Grandmaster Flash's seminal 1982 rap hit "The Message." The irony: the song wasn't even nominated for a Grammy when it was first released, largely because the Grammy ballot didn't have a separate category for rap until 1988.

"The Message," which was credited to Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five featuring: Melle Mel and Duke Bootee, is being featured because it was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame this year. (The Recording Academy looks to the Hall of Fame, as well as Lifetime Achievement Awards and Trustees Awards, to help make up for slights and oversights in its regular Grammy Awards voting.)

Grandmaster Flash has never won a Grammy. Melle Mel finally won in 1990 when he was featured on the title track to Quincy Jones' Back On The Block. Joining the two hip-hop pioneers for the performance on Wednesday's show will be LL Cool J, who will also host the show, Common, Lupe Fiasco, Rick Ross and Scorpio.

The emotional highlight of the one-hour special will doubtless be a salute to songwriters Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber, who died within hours of each other on Aug. 22. The sequence will feature their songwriting partners, Valerie Simpson and Mike Stoller, respectively, as well as Usher. The rub? Ashford & Simpson never won a Grammy, as songwriters, producers or artists. Leiber & Stoller did win a Grammy, but only in 1995 for the Broadway cast album to Smokey Joe's Café—The Songs Of Leiber & Stoller, a long-running Broadway show based on their music. They received a Grammy Trustees Award in 1999.

Some of Leiber & Stoller's biggest hits, including "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock," pre-dated the inception of the Grammy Awards in 1958. But others, including "Kansas City," "Stand By Me" (which they co-wrote with Ben E. King), "On Broadway" (which they co-wrote with Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil) and "Is That All There Is," were post-1958. All of Ashford & Simpson's songs came after 1958. Their most famous hits include "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing," "You're All I Need To Get By" and "I'm Every Woman."

The show will also feature a teaser appearance by Van Halen, in which the veteran hard rock band announces that it will reunite to perform on the regular Grammy show on Feb. 12. How has Van Halen fared at the Grammys? They won once, in 1991, for Best Hard Rock Performance With Vocal for their chart-topping album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. (But that still means they had to wait 13 years for a Grammy victory.)

The show will also feature performances by Jason Aldean, Lady Gaga, Ludacris, Sugarland, the Band Perry and (via remote) Rihanna. Presenters are set to include Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry and actors Taylor Lautner and Taraji P. Henson.