Barack Obama may be headed for his third Grammy win at the 64th annual Grammy Awards on Jan. 31.
Obama’s A Promised Land is nominated for best spoken word album (includes poetry, audio books and storytelling). He previously won in the category twice as a U.S. Senator – with Dreams From My Father (2005) and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (2007). If he wins again, he’ll tie Jimmy Carter as the U.S. president with the most Grammy Awards.
Carter won three Grammys in the spoken word category long after leaving the White House in 1981. He won for Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis (2006), A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety (2015) and Faith – A Journey For All (2018).
The only other president to win a Grammy is Bill Clinton, who won twice. He won the 2003 award for best spoken word album for children for Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf/Beintus: Wolf Tracks, a collab with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and screen legend Sophia Loren. Clinton won for best spoken word album the following year for My Life.
This is Obama’s third Grammy nomination, which means he has yet to lose. Carter’s three wins are from nine nominations. Clinton’s two wins are from four nominations.
Three other presidents were nominated for Grammys. John F. Kennedy was nominated for best documentary, spoken word or drama recording (other than comedy) for The Kennedy Wit (1964, the year after his assassination). Harry S. Truman was nominated for best spoken word recording for The Truman Tapes (1977, five years after his death). Richard Nixon was nominated, alongside interviewer David Frost, for best spoken word recording for The Nixon Interviews With David Frost (1978, four years after he became the first president to resign from office.)
The Frost/Nixon interviews were the basis of the 2008 feature film Frost/Nixon, which received five Oscar nominations, including best picture.
Nixon is the only Republican president to have been nominated for a Grammy — and that nomination was hardly an honor. This likely reflects the political leanings of the members of the Recording Academy.
In addition, collections of speeches by Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt won Grammys, though those men weren’t personally cited in these cases.
Two former first ladies, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, have won Grammys.
Obama is competing for best spoken word album with a tribute to one of his heroes, the late Congressman John Lewis, who died in July 2020 at age 80. Actor Don Cheadle is nominated for Carry On: Reflections for a New Generation from John Lewis.
This year’s other nominees in the category are LeVar Burton’s Aftermath, J. Ivy’s Catching Dreams: Live at Fort Knox Chicago and Dave Chappelle & Amir Salaiman’s 8:46. (Thus, all five of this year’s nominated works are by African Americans for the first time in this category’s history.)
Like Obama, Cheadle, Burton and Chappelle are past Grammy winners. Cheadle and Burton have each won once. Chappelle has won three times for best comedy album.
8:46 was placed in the spoken word category rather than best comedy album because the focus is more on social commentary than humor. Chappelle’s special, which aired on YouTube, was entitled 8:46 in reference to the eight minutes and 46 seconds that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd, killing him, as well as to the time of birth on Chappelle’s birth certificate: 8:46 a.m.