Lifetime Achievement Award winners (from left) George Jones, Gregg Allman, Diana Ross and Glen Campbell at The 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Special Merit Awards Ceremony at L.A.'s Wilshire Ebell Theatre. (Photo: WireImage)
LOS ANGELES -- Glen Campbell, Diana Ross, George Jones and the Allman Brothers Band were among those honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Special Merit Awards ceremony hosted by the Recording Academy late Saturday afternoon. NARAS president Neil Portnow, who hosted, pointed out that there is rarely a dry eye in the house at the sentimentality soaked event. This year was no exception, with standing ovations for recipients like Jones, 80, and Memphis Horns member Wayne Jackson, 70.
News of Whitney Houston's passing lit social media ablaze just as the awards portion drew to a close at Los Angeles' historic Wilshire Ebell Theatre. There was no mention from the stage ('though screenwriter Steven Gaydos described an "ashen-faced" Portnow rushing out "with no comment" on Twitter) but news of the singer's passing reverberated throughout the reception that followed.
The Allman Brothers Band who picked up ten individual trophies between them. (WireImage)
"I just heard when [partner] Mayne and I were riding over here," said Grammy nominee Dru Bet of The Runners, who produced Rihanna's "Cheers (Drink to That)," . "We totally grew up on her like everybody else. It blew us away. I mean, we almost didn't come for a minute because we were so just appalled. It was just crazy. It's a shame, you know? She was so talented. One of the best voices of our generation."
"It's a tough time right now," said nominee Mars of 1500 or Nothin' / Smash Factory, who has worked with Chris Brown, T.I. and others. "I can't even really wrap my head around the situation, 'cause I just seen her the other night. Faith Evans is a real good friend of mine. We've been working together. I actually went to an event, to Kelly Price's event, the other night, with Faith to support Kelly Price, Whitney Houston and people that have paved the way for R&B. I seen her there, I seen Ray J, I seen Brandy, I seen everybody that was there. It was just so tragic. All I can say is, man, my prayers go up to her and her family and God bless her spirit and her soul."
Members of Gil Scott Heron's family accept Honoree Gil Scott-Heron's Lifetime Achievement award (WireImage)
Before news of Houston's death reached the event, members of the Allman Brothers Band and other Special Merit Awards recipients (technical and trustee awards were also given) mingled amongst folks like "Weird" Al Yankovic, Matt Annerino (Director, CRM / Direct Marketing at Live Nation), Marc Mutnansky (Library Coordinator Awards, The Recording Academy), Jenny Oaks Baker (nominated in Best Pop Instrumental category) and Peter Cooper (nominated as co-producer on the Red Beet Records compilation, I Love: Tom T. Hall's Songs of Fox Hollow) at the food and drink fueled reception, where Grammy nominees picked up small medals in blue Tiffany's boxes inside a VIP room.
The atmosphere before the ceremony was relaxed and festive. Gregg Allman was particularly reflective about the honor his band was receiving for their 43 year career. "It's way beyond what I ever expected," he told Billboard.biz. "I'll definitely treasure it for the rest of my days." He noted that back when he started, the idea of a lifetime achievement award was "in another whole solar system. You get to see people that you ain't seen [at award shows], 'cause we're like ships passing in the night," he added. "I've gone my whole career and I just met George Jones. And man, what a thrill! What a total thrill."
Hon Honorees George Jones (left) and Gregg Allman
Technical Grammy awards were first on the docket, with German based technology company Celemony (makers of the Melodyne audio-editing software first introduced at the winter NAMM Show in 2001) receiving their award followed by engineer and producer Roger Nichols, perhaps best known for his work with Steely Dan. His award was accepted by his widow, Connie Reader, and his daughters. "Roger was a good friend to us personally," Portnow noted immediately afterward. "Certainly we miss him a great deal."
Fats Domino collaborator Dave Bartholomew, who has written over 4000 songs, received the first Trustees Award. His sons Ron and Don accepted on his behalf. Ron, who manages his father ("he's basically retired now, so he's pretty easy to manage"), noted that while Bartholomew is a member of the Rock N' Roll Hall Of Fame, the Louisiana Hall of Fame and several other prestigious institutions, "we've never had a Grammy on our mantle. Today, we get that opportunity." Older sibling Don said that despite his absence from the ceremony, their 91 year old father is in good health and was "choked up" when informed of the award.
An ebullient Diana Ross accepting her lifetime achievement award (WireImage)
Apple's Senior Vice President of Software and Services, Eddy Cue, accepted the Trustees Award for late co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs. "Steve was a visionary, a mentor and a very close friend. I had the incredible honor of working with him for the last 15 years," he said.
"Accepting this award means so much to me because music meant so much to him. He told us that music changed his life. It made him who he was. Everyone that knew Steve knows the profound impact that artists like Bob Dylan and the Beatles had on him. Steve was focused on bringing music to everyone in innovative ways. He talked about it every single day. When we introduced the iPod in 2001, people asked, 'Why is Apple making a music player?' His answer was simple. 'We love music. And it's always good to do something you love.' His family and I know that this Grammy would have been very special to him. So I thank you for honoring him."
It was the most emotional moment of the ceremony to that point, but one that was matched by Wayne Jackson as he spoke about his longtime bandmate, Andrew Love (who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's almost ten years ago). "I thank and honor my best friend Andrew tonight," he said, fighting back tears. "I wish he was here." He also thanked his parents "for somehow knowing that that trumpet would carry me through life. And it did! I've had a wonderful time with that thing." The Memphis Horns, of course, played on dozens of #1 songs, working with as the house players at Stax and collaborating with a list of hit-makers including Elvis and U2.
Jazz engineer Rudy Van Gelder, late Bossa Nova pioneer Antonio Carlos Jobim and the late Gil Scott Heron were also honored. "This is a big thrill even to be nominated or even to achieve the award today," said country legend Jones, also affectionately known as "The Possum." "Most of all, at my age, it's good to be thought of by any type of award, I guess. But this is one of the greatest."
Campbell said his wife tells him he talks to much. "There are probably a few people you'd like to thank," she interjected, to which he playfully shot back: "Yeah. Who are they?" She then proceeded to rollout a thank you list on his behalf, to many laughs from the crowd. "My wife loves to talk," he joked, just as she finished.
Portnow joked that there wouldn't be any Grammy awards left to give out on Sunday thanks to the Allman Brothers, who picked up ten individual trophies between them. Drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson gave particularly moving speeches. Ex guitarist / vocalist Dickey Betts wasn't onstage, but members old and new (Warren Haynes joined in the late '80s) and family members of the late Duane Allman and Berry Oakley (who both passed away in 1972) were on-hand to share stories and good humor.
Ross brought her kids (and first grandson) onstage with her and called them her real "lifetime achievement." "I always like to think of myself first as a parent and as an artist, it has been very important for my creativity," she said.
"I started in 1960. I was born in 1944. Want to do some math?" she joked. "It's been many years and I have watched all the changes in the industry. When I started I think we were making 78s, then we started 33 1/3rds, then it was 45s, then it was 8 tracks, then it was cassettes..." she said, laughing. "We went from analog to digital and it's been such an incredible run. I am very happy, very excited and look forward to the future, actually. [I'm] ready to go into the studio and make new music!"
Rain threatened to dampen the outdoor portion of the reception, but it quickly dissipated, leaving guests free to patronize the multiple open bars, load up platefuls of food and enjoy music from the young members of the GRAMMY Camp Jazz Session.
"It's awesome. It's an honor. We feel blessed to be here," Dru Bet of the Runners told Billboard.biz. Bet wore his Grammy nominee proudly as he and Mayne Zayne chatted with friends. The pair, who also produced songs for Chris Brown, are currently working with Avril Lavigne. "Avril is just a genius. She's writing all the songs right now," Bet said. "And Mayne and her, they clicked creatively together, [it's] excellent."
Another nominee who has worked with Chris Brown, Mars, also wore his nominee bling proudly at the reception. Between his band / production company 1500 Or Nothin and the Smash Factory production company he has with T.I., Mars has been working with Nipsey Hussle, Snoop Dogg's daughter and Faith Evans, Mars used the reception as an opportunity to relax and take it all in. "I'm floored at the opportunity to even be here with some of these people that have been paving the way for us as well as being nominated."