Bonnie Raitt will join the Recording Academy’s 2021 class of special merit award recipients, first announced in December 2020, when the awards are belatedly presented in a ceremony at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles on Jan. 30, 2022, the night before the 64th annual Grammy Awards.
The special merit awards include lifetime achievement awards (for performers), trustees awards (for non-performers), the technical Grammy award and the music educator award.
Raitt was approached about a lifetime achievement award last year, but declined because of COVID-19 concerns. The rest of the class, which was announced on Dec. 22, 2020, consists of lifetime achievement award recipients Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Lionel Hampton, Marilyn Horne, Salt-N-Pepa, Selena and Talking Heads; trustees award recipients Ed Cherney, Benny Golson and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds; and technical Grammy award recipient Daniel Weiss.
Because of the pandemic, the 2021 special merit award honorees were unable to attend the 63rd annual Grammy Awards. They were briefly acknowledged during the telecast.
“We are so excited to celebrate the 2021 honorees at the 64th Grammys to ensure they get the celebration they deserve,” said Harvey Mason jr., CEO of the Recording Academy. “With the strict COVID protocols in place for the 63rd show, we were not able to properly and fairly honor our special merit award honorees as we have done in past years. Before we induct a new class, we must come together to recognize this group of iconic creators who have paved the way not only in music, but also within our culture.”
The Recording Academy also announced that the special merit awards presentations will return to the Wilshire Ebell, where it was held for many years through 2015. From 2016-20, the presentations were made at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, the site of the Oscars, for a show that was taped for PBS’ Great Performances franchise.
The Wilshire Ebell event was long considered one of the highlights of Grammy Week. The TV taping that replaced it lacked the warm, intimate vibe, but allowed music fans around the country to see it.
The Wilshire Ebell event also includes the 64th annual Grammy nominees reception. All nominees are invited, though not all attend — or the fire marshal would have a very busy night. At the event, nominees can pick up medallions to mark their nomination, so they have something tangible to show for their nomination – win or lose the following night.
David Byrne of Talking Heads is also a Grammy nominee this year for best music film for David Byrne’s American Utopia, which he produced with Spike Lee. So he can pick up a lifetime achievement award and a nominees medallion on the same night — a neat trick.
Raitt is a 10-time Grammy winner, including album of the year for Nick of Time at the 32nd annual Grammy Awards in February 1990. Raitt’s surprise album of the year victory, her performance that night of “Thing Called Love” and the grace she showed in her multiple acceptance speeches made her a star overnight — after nearly 20 years in the business. Nick of Time logged three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 that April.
Raitt, the daughter of Broadway great John Raitt, was MusiCares’ Person of the Year in 1992. Bonnie Raitt is the 10th person to receive all three of these top honors from the Recording Academy – album of the year, a lifetime achievement award and being named the MusiCares person of the year. She follows Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Carole King, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. (Some fine print: Jones received the trustees award, which is the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award for non-performers. Simon won a lifetime achievement award as half of Simon & Garfunkel. McCartney won album of the year as part of The Beatles. Mitchell won album of the year as a featured artist on Herbie Hancock’s tribute, River: The Joni Letters.)
The lifetime achievement award celebrates performers who have made outstanding contributions of artistic significance to the field of recording, while the trustees award honors such contributions in areas other than performance. The technical Grammy award is presented to individuals and companies who have made contributions of outstanding technical significance to the recording industry.
Technical Grammy award recipients are voted on by the Producers & Engineers Wing’s advisory council and chapter committees, and are ratified by the board of trustees. The trustees also ratify the lifetime achievement award and trustees award recipients.
The recipient of the 2021 music educator award, presented by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Museum, will also be honored at this event. The recipient has not yet been named.