Grammy Foundation To Expand Grammy Camp To Nashville
Grammy Foundation To Expand Grammy Camp To Nashville

From Doris Day to 'Exile on Main Street' to Grandmaster Flash, the 2012 inductees to the Grammy Hall of Fame shine bright

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This year's list of in-ductees to the Grammy Hall of Fame represents another new threshold crossed for hip-hop. "The Message," the harrowing 1982 single by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five featuring Melle Mel and Duke Bootee, is the first rap song voted onto this register of "singles, individual tracks and album recordings of all genres . . . that exhibit qualitative or historical significance." A special member committee reviews eligible recordings yearly, and final approval is reserved for the Recording Academy's board of trustees.

Since recordings need to be at least 25 years old to qualify for the Hall of Fame (established in 1973), the Recording Academy isn't egregiously late in recognizing the most revolutionary musical movement of its generation. Still, the fact that it's this song-with its stark depiction of ghetto brutality and injustice-that broke the barrier (as opposed to, say, the good-time disco vibe of the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight) is significant.

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L-R: Big Bill Broonzy, Gene Autry

"The Message" was the moment that demonstrated hip-hop's potential for social commentary, for "realness," and led directly to the sometimes trenchant, sometimes voyeuristic lyrics that have steered the genre since. It will be fascinating to see how far down this volatile road the hall will be willing to go-Run-D.M.C.? (Probably.) Public Enemy? (Hopefully.) N.W.A? (Hmm…)

"The Message" is also part of the true arrival of the '80s into the Hall of Fame. The four recordings voted in from that much-maligned decade increase its representation among the hall's 900-plus roll call by more than half. Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA joins rival blockbusters Thriller and Purple Rain on the list; presumably Madonna, the final comparable '80s megastar, won't be far behind.

Paul Simon's 1986 album Graceland just hit the 25-year requirement-and it's interesting that the controversy surrounding its release regarding Simon's collaboration with South African musicians still living under an apartheid-based government didn't prevent the album from being this year's only first-ballot inductee.

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Martin Luther King Jr.

In addition, "The Message" provides a perfect bookend to another recording selected for this honor, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech from the 1963 March on Washington. From the promise depicted in that towering oratory to the urban decay and despair voiced by the Furious Five, listening to these two documents side by side tells a horrific story. If Bill Cosby's 1964 I Started Out As a Child album, another of this year's inductees, represents the hope of the civil rights era and mirrors King's dream, then "The Message" can find its roots in the tough, unsentimental spirit of Bukka White's "Fixin' to Die," Leroy Carr's "How Long How Long Blues," Big Bill Broonzy's "Key to the Highway" and Furry Lewis' "Kassie Jones"-this year's blues additions.

One thing that a list like this demonstrates is the continually evolving legacy of certain recordings. Harry Smith's 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music collection was an obscure, hand-hewn assembly of U.S. musical traditions. For years, it was like a secret handshake, passed hand to hand within a tiny circle of listeners and musicians. Now, it's seen as a landmark achievement that influenced artists from Bob Dylan to Beck.

The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street was considered something of a disappointment when it was released in 1972, but its murky sound and ominous mood grew in reputation over time, culminating in the phenomenal success of last year's expanded reissue. Even Gloria Gaynor's 1978 disco smash "I Will Survive," initially celebrated as a campy symbol of the era and a guilty pleasure at best, has persevered as an anthem of liberation.

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L-R: Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Gloria Gaynor, Cole Porter

This crop of inductees also fleshes out the story of Latin music in America. Most notable is the range of styles and heritages displayed within this list-from the ballads and boleros of the 1945 album Mexicantos by Los Panchos to the pioneering fusion of Santana's 1969 debut album, from the funky bossa nova on Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 to the Tex-Mex heartbreak of Freddy Fender's 1975 single, "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights." These picks serve as a reminder of the rich and far-reaching legacy that Latin musicians, so often lumped into one catch-all category, have created.

As for the rest of the list-including such unassailable and monumental songs as Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," Mahalia Jackson's "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," Gene Autry's "Deep in the Heart of Texas" and Doris Day's "Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)"-the only question would be why they weren't already in. These classics are the easy ones; it's the more progressive choices for which the Recording Academy should be congratulated. As with most other Halls of Fame, from rock'n'roll to baseball, the coming years will present enormous challenges, as they grapple with chapters of history marked by fragmentation and controversy. But with this year's list, the Grammy Hall of Fame delivered the goods in its stated mission of "highlighting diversity and musical excellence."

Alan Light is director of programming for PBS' "Live From the Artists Den." He also contributes to Rolling Stone and the New York Times, and is a former editor-in-chief of Vibe and Spin. For a full list of inductees, go to grammy.org/recording-academy/awards/hall-of-fame.

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PHOTO CREDITS: Big bill broonzy: michael ochs archives/getty images; grandmaster flash & the furious five: ebet roberts/redferns/getty images; autry: gab archives/redferns/getty images; gaynor: gilles petard/redferns/getty images; porter: sasha/hulton archive/Getty images; king: afp/getty images