Awards

Inside the Grammy Museum, From BTS to Alicia Keys to Peggy Lee

"On The Red Carpet" exhibit at the Grammy Museum.
Courtesy of Grammy Museum

"On The Red Carpet" exhibit at the Grammy Museum.

"Surreal." That's how Michael Sticka describes his plum gig as the president of the Grammy Museum, which embodies a core mission to celebrate the music industry and impart musical wisdom on younger generations. "Everything about my job is surreal, whether it's seeing the exhibits at the museum, meeting artists or seeing the smiles on kids' faces when they come through," he says. "It's a surreal life that I lead."

As the 62nd iteration of the annual ceremony approaches (Jan. 26), the museum is gearing up for a host of special events and exhibits, including a longtime showcase which recently got a major revamp at their Downtown Los Angeles headquarters. Dubbed On The Red Carpet, it focuses on Grammy fashion throughout the years and includes the dresses, suits, footwear and accessories a host of disparate luminaries have flaunted. "The exhibit has existed since the museum first opened in 2008, but what we've done in the last several months is spend about two million dollars renovating our third floor, which includes the gallery that houses On The Red Carpet," explains Sticka.

In celebration of the recent refresh, Sticka and his team recruited a fresh cache of notable pieces ranging from the suits that BTS wore while presenting on the 2019 telecast to items from late legends such as Nipsey Hussle and Amy Winehouse. "A lot of times we'll have someone backstage at the Grammys asking artists and their teams if they'd like to donate their outfit or their costume to the museum's personal collection, or at least loan it to us," he says of the culling process. "Another way is through our artist relations department. As artists come through the museums for programs, we'll ask if they have anything to offer."

From a purse Frank Sinatra gave Peggy Lee to carry during the first Grammy ceremony in 1959 to outfits courtesy of Michelle Obama and Lang Lang, Sticka broke down the most notable pieces of the collection for Billboard: "It's an honor for us that these artists and estates entrust something of value to us."

BTS

This one's for the BTS Army. The threads the K-Pop superstars wore during the 2019 ceremony have become a major draw. "The fact we're able to have tuxedos there as part of this exhibit is amazing," says Sticka of the seven tuxes the boy band wore while presenting best R&B album to H.E.R. While the group received a total of zero nominations for the 2020 ceremony, perhaps feasting their eyes on their outfits will numb the snub for their fervent fan base. "Including BTS has obviously brought a lot of people to the museum who wouldn't have otherwise come in."

Michelle Obama

Sitting in the audience for the 2019 show, Sticka vividly remembers the reaction when former First Lady Michelle Obama appeared to help open the proceedings. "When she walked out, the place went crazy," he explains. "It was a total surprise for everyone, even me." As a result, Mrs. Obama's dress made for a perfect addition to On The Red Carpet and was scored thanks to former Grammy Museum executive director Bob Santelli. "This one came about because we have a very good relationship with the Obama White House, as we actually used to do programming there," he says. "Bob has the relationship with them and was able to work with Mrs. Obama to get her outfit. It's so different for us as well, because while she's not a music icon she's an American icon. You can imagine the amount of pictures that get taken of it."

Amy Winehouse

The dress Amy Winehouse wore when she won best new artist, record of the year and song of the year while accepting remotely from London in 2008 is part of a larger exhibit exclusively devoted to the late English powerhouse which opens Grammy week, dubbed Beyond Black: The Style of Amy Winehouse. "It takes up 3,000 square feet of our second floor and we partnered with her family on it to help celebrate her legacy and career," explains Sticka of the larger collection on display that includes handwritten lyrics and journal entries along with the singer's fashions. "To also include the dress she was wearing during her big Grammy night in On The Red Carpet is really special and really cool."

Nipsey Hussle

It was less than two months after 2019's ceremony when the prolific rapper Nipsey Hussle was killed in South Los Angeles. To honor the fallen artist, the Grammy Museum included the shoes and tuxedo he wore to what would be his final ceremony. "He's obviously not only a local artist, but a local hero here in Los Angeles, so we wanted him to have a presence in our museum," says Sticka. "With Nipsey, it's not only about his music but his presence in our community too."

Peggy Lee

While initial organizers were mulling calling the award the Eddie (after phonograph inventor Thomas Edison), it was later dubbed the Grammy (after the gramophone) and the first ceremony was held on May 4, 1959 in both Los Angeles in New York simultaneously. During the Los Angeles ceremony at the Beverly Hilton, Peggy Lee was in attendance. "That night she wore a brooch, a ring and a purse that Frank Sinatra gave her," explains Sticka. "Her estate loaned it all to us and it's now a part of the exhibit. What I think is really cool is that we have everyone from a modern act like BTS and all the way back to that first show with Peggy."

Lang Lang

For Sticka and his team, diversity at the Grammy Museum is a priority. "It's very important for us to not be genre-specific; we like to be as diverse as possible," he explains. "Lang Lang is obviously a superstar classical musician and pianist," he says of the Chinese artist whose first and only nomination was in 2007. "Having classical music represented at the museum alongside a country artist like Maren Morris and an R&B artist like Alicia Keys tells the story of the Grammys all in one display."

Alicia Keys

As the star gears up to be the master of ceremonies for her second time, a dress she wore during her first turn at the helm is featured. "That one was donated by the designer, Michael Costello," says Sticka of how it landed in their collection. "Sometimes the designers donate them because they get them back after the artist wears them."