“Pace yourself.” This is what I say to myself right before every Grammy Week, and heading to LA I am absolutely sure that I’ve not spread myself so thin as to be completely exhausted by weekend’s end. Inevitably, that whole “pace yourself” thing proves to be a big lie, because looking back on the days leading up to Music’s Biggest Night I always realize how much action was packed into each 24-hour segment, with late nights morphing into early mornings and eventually becoming a blur. Thankfully, I take excellent notes. Coffee helps, too.
With this year’s Grammy Week coinciding with Valentine’s Day, the LA Marathon, and absolutely perfect LA weather, there was no shortage of events—Grammy-related and otherwise—for the taking. Here are the top 7 moments from Grammy Weekend 2016!
The 7th Annual Essence Black Women in Music Celebration
The Essence Black Women in Music celebration has become one of the most eagerly anticipated Grammy Week events, promising a broad range of talent that gathers to pay tribute to the sistahs whose musical contributions form the sound track of our lives. This year’s event kicked off with the purple carpet, where everyone from DJ Rashida, who rocked the 1s and 2s before the show, to newly-minted Cover Girl spokesmodel Zendaya, Black-ish co-star Yara Shahidi, Grammy nominee (and subsequent winner) Lalah Hathaway, British soul singer Corinne Bailey Rae, Kendra Foster (co-writer for D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s Black Messiah, whose new solo album comes out this spring), and hip-hop pioneer MC Lyte stopped to chat on their way into Hollywood’s Avalon. But for sure, the highlight of the night was the chance to interview Dr. Funkenstein himself, the one and only George Clinton. When I asked him who, in his opinion, held the keys to the funk kingdom, Clinton wasted no time responding, “Kendrick Lamar!” Once inside the venue, we were treated to performances by newcomer Andra Day, whose debut album Cheers to the Fall was the darling of 2015, garnering her Grammy nominations for Best R&B Song (“Rise Up”) and Best R&B Album, and the incomparable Jazmine Sullivan, whose return to recording and performing after a 3-year hiatus is nothing short of a musical second coming.
ASCAP Grammy Nominee Soirée
One of my personal favorite aspects of the Grammy Awards is the opportunity to get to know—
and properly acknowledge—the songwriters and composers whose lyrics and melodies pulse through our headphones and speakers and into our hearts and souls. While most can easily rattle off the performers who bring our favorite songs to life, it’s the songwriters and composers who create the songs, and as one of the PROs (performing rights organizations) along with BMI and SESAC, ASCAP continues to make it possible for artists to do what they love. The ASCAP Grammy Nominee Soirée celebrated the ASCAP members (songwriters, composers, publishers) on this year’s ballot—folks like James Fauntleroy and Anna Wise for their contributions to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly; Kendra Foster, whose songwriting chops shine through on D’Angelo’s Black Messiah; Best New Artist nominees Tori Kelly and Sam Hunt; and Best Traditional R&B Performance nominee Tyrese. Artists like Bridget Kelly, No ID, and Goapele showed off their perfect Saturday afternoon styles on the red carpet, and Jazmine Sullivan made yet another appearance, delivering a spell-binding performance. Also in attendance was rock star Richie Sambora, ASCAP president and Grammy winner Paul Williams, and Nicole George-Middleton, who recently moved from SVP of ASCAP’s R&B division to SVP of Membership for the organization, along with Shawn LeMone.
Nikka Costa’s Awe-Inspiring Performance at Largo
When I interviewed funk/soul singer and songwriter Nikka Costa in 2011, she had just released an EP, Pro*Whoa!, her fourth studio release following her ground-breaking 2000 album, Everybody Got Their Something, 2005’s Can’t Never Did Nothing, and her 2008 project, Pebble to a Pearl. It’s been 5 years since Costa’s put out new music, and she took a bit of a break from recording and performing to focus on her family. Hallelujah, she’s back, and with a vengeance! Costa’s show at LA’s Largo at the Coronet was a revelation. In place of her usual guitars/bass/keys/drums/percussion backing band, she brought with her instead a 4-piece string ensemble, gifting her beloved tunes such as “Like a Feather” (which she began with the familiar strains from The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”), the Sly Stone-esque “Everybody Got Their Something,” and the sublime “Just Because” with a whole new energy. But it was Costa’s takes on classics such as Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” “Nothing Compares 2 U” (which, in my opinion, was the perfect intersection of Prince’s original gospel-infused composition and Sinéad O’Connor’s pop vocal arrangement), and Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You,” which she dedicated to her husband of nearly 25 years, that truly brought the house down.
The 8th Annual MojaMoja Brunch
Hands down one of my favorite Grammy Week events, the 8th annual MojaMoja Brunch, co-founded by KCRW personality Garth Trinidad and media maven Ramona Wright, never fails to deliver some of the the absolute best music to a week filled with terrific musical offerings. This year’s event was especially alluring in that it boasted an all-woman line-up: Minneapolis-based Lizzo, whose empowering messages of self-love and body-acceptance got the audience on our feet; LA’s Gavin Turek, who wore us all out with the most high-energy performance this side of Beyoncé (and girlfriend missed not one note); soul singer Raquel Rodriguez, who closed her set with Chaka Khan’s “Can’t Nobody;” Oakland’s Mara Hruby, set to release a new full-length album later this year); and the effervescent Goapele. DJ Rashida warmed up the crowd with a mix of tunes covering R&B, hip-hop, house, and all points in between, and proceeds from this year’s brunch benefitted the MojaMoja Innovation Fund in support of the Girl Scouts and their STEM programs.
The Roots Jam Session
Every year, hottest ticket in town. Except, there aren’t really tickets. There are guest lists and long lines and favors and hook ups and “who do I know who knows someone who knows someone who might be able to get me in the show?”s. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the annual Roots Jam Session. In its 10th year, the 2016 edition of this 3-night music-gasm, hosted at LA’s Hotel Café, featured guest performances by Bilal, Tori Kelly, John Legend, and…um…Lenny Kravitz and, oh yeah, George Clinton!
The Robert Glasper Experience at The Mint
Also putting in a 3-night residency during Grammy Week was the Robert Glasper Experience. Known for his dexterous blending of jazz, funk, soul, hip-hop, and electronic music, Glasper and his merry bandmates consistently bring down a packed house with sets featuring gems from albums like Black Radio, Black Radio 2, and Covered. At the Valentine’s Day show, Goapele joined the band on stage to perform Sade’s “Cherish Day” (performed by Lalah Hathaway on Black Radio), and Glasper et al took a moment to pay tribute to the late J. Dilla.
Music’s Biggest Night, The Grammys
For the first time ever, the 58th annual Grammy Awards were broadcast live on the west coast, which meant no delayed broadcast. The show also took place on a Monday, which honestly felt a little odd, but certainly did not dampen the excitement as the hours ticked down to curtain. During the pre-broadcast awards ceremony, D’Angelo and the Vanguard took home trophies for Best R&B Album for Black Messiah and Best R&B Song for “Really Love;” Alabama Shakes won for Best Rock Song for “Don’t Wanna Fight” (they also won for Best Rock Album for Sound & Color during the telecast); Lalah Hathaway walked away with a statue for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Little Ghetto Boy” and Kirk Franklin won for Best Gospel Performance Song “Wanna Be Happy?;” and Kendrick Lamar scored for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for “These Walls” with Bilal, Thundercat, and Anna Wise. Mavis Staples won the Grammy for Best American Roots Performance “See that My Grave is Kept Clean.”
The show, of course, was live and live! LL Cool J returned as host and K. Dot ripped the stage with a powerful performance; Lionel Richie was honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year with a tribute featuring John Legend, Meghan Trainor (who won for Best New Artist), and Tyrese, who did the damn thing with “Brick House;” and Stevie Wonder and Pentatonix remembered Earth, Wind & Fire co-founder, songwriter, producer, and singer Maurice White with a stirring a cappella performance of “That’s the Way of the World.” Kendrick Lamar won for Best Rap Album, presented to him by O’Shea Jackson, Sr. and Jr. (aka, Ice Cube and Lil’ Ice Cube, maybe), Andra Day and Ellie Goulding turned in a dazzling duet, and Lady Gaga and the great Nile Rodgers paid tribute to David Bowie. The cast of the Broadway smash musical, Hamilton, brought the hottest show on the Great White Way to the Staples Center stage, and won the Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album; show creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda delivered the greatest acceptance speech ever. R&B pioneer Ruth Brown was honored with a Grammys Lifetime Achievement Award, and blues artists Chris Stapleton, Gary Clark, Jr., and the brilliant Bonnie Raitt celebrated the life and songs of the late B.B. King.
Of course, there were far too many great Grammy moments to include here, and a full list of the night’s winners is available at grammys.com.
Rhonda Nicole is the Managing Editor for SoulTrain.com, a member of The Recording Academy (The Grammys) and ASCAP, a soul singer/songwriter, music journalist, blogger, and curator of the BohemeRockstar Music Blog (IG @BohemeRockstar), splitting her time between the Bay Area and LA. Download her EP ‘Nuda Veritas’ on CDBaby and iTunes, keep up with her new music at soundcloud.com/rhonda-nicole, follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @wildhoneyrock, and dig her musical musings at rhondanicole.com.