Lana Del Rey has yet to win a Grammy, despite six nominations over the years. But she could have another shot at the 2021 show, albeit in an unlikely category — best spoken word album — for Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass. Del Rey describes the upcoming release as an “audiobook of poems.”
The upcoming album was produced, and features music by, Jack Antonoff, a four-time Grammy winner. Antonoff co-produced Del Rey’s most recent studio album, Norman F—ing Rockwell!, which received a Grammy nomination for album of the year. The title track, co-written by Antonoff and Del Rey, received a Grammy nod for song of the year.
Del Rey wouldn’t be the first musical artist to win his or her first Grammy in the spoken word category (which was one of the original 28 categories when the Grammys launched in 1958). 1950s rock veterans Jerry Lee Lewis, Rick Nelson and Carl Perkins and Sun Records founder Sam Phillips won their only career Grammys for the 1986 spoken word recording Interviews From the Class of ’55 Recording Sessions. Former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins won his only Grammy with 1994’s Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag.
This award has gone to a music act (or acts) a few other times over the years. Conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein won the 1961 award for Humor in Music. Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison and producer Chips Moman also shared in the 1986 award for the aforementioned Interviews From the Class of ’55 Recording Sessions. Legendary producer Quincy Jones won the 2001 award for Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones. Singer/songwriter Janis Ian won the 2012 award for Society’s Child.
In addition, two actors who had some success with singing won their only Grammys in the category. Richard Harris won the 1973 award for Jonathan Livingston Seagull. George Burns won the 1990 award for Gracie: A Love Story.
Nearly 20 other music acts have been nominated in the spoken word category over the years, though they didn’t win. They are: Marian Anderson (The Lady From Philadelphia, 1958), Stan Kenton (Mama Sang a Song, 1962), Billie Holiday (Songs and Conversations, 1973), Jim Morrison (An American Prayer, 1979), Mahalia Jackson (I Sing Because I’m Happy, Vols. 1 & 2, 1980), Paul McCartney (The McCartney Interview, conducted by Vic Garbarini, 1981), John Lennon & Yoko Ono (Heart Play (Unfinished Dialogue), 1984), Arlo Guthrie (Bound for Glory, 1993), The Chieftains (The Authorized Biography, 1999), Merle Haggard (Merle Haggard’s My House of Memories—For the Record, 1999), Pete Seeger (The Storm King, 2013), Gloria Gaynor (We Will Survive: True Stories of Encouragement, Inspiration and the Power of Song, 2014), Patti Smith (Blood on Snow (Jo Nesbø), 2015 and M Train, 2016), Elvis Costello (Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, 2015), Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run, 2017), Questlove (Creative Quest, 2018) and Mike D and Adam Horovitz (Beastie Boys Book, 2019).
In addition, songwriter Shelly Peiken was nominated for Confessions of a Serial Songwriter (2017).
The name of the category has changed over the years. In the Grammys’ first year, it was called best performance, documentary or spoken word. Currently, the full name of the category is best spoken word album (includes poetry, audio books & storytelling).