Two groundbreaking hip-hop groups — Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five and Salt-N-Pepa — are among the six artists selected by the Recording Academy to receive 2021 lifetime achievement awards. This marks the second year in a row that a rap group has been selected. Public Enemy was among the honorees last year. Run-D.M.C. was the first rap group to be presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Academy, in 2016.
The Academy also chose three trustees award recipients and one recipient of a technical Grammy Award in what it collectively refers to as its Special Merit Awards. (The trustees award is the equivalent to a lifetime achievement award for people whose primary contributions are behind-the-scenes.)
This year’s honorees include both artists who have long been Grammy favorites, such as 11-time Grammy winner Babyface, and artists who never won a Grammy, such as Hampton and Talking Heads. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five was never even nominated for a Grammy.
The Academy continues to strive for racial diversity in its picks. Five of the 10 Special Merit Award recipients are African American.
The Academy chose just six lifetime achievement award recipients, one less than its usual tally of seven. This is the lowest number of lifetime achievement award recipients since 2004, when there were also six.
The honorees will be recognized on the 63rd annual Grammy Awards on Jan. 31, and at greater length subsequently. For the last five years, the Special Merit Awards honorees were saluted on a PBS special, Grammy Salute to Music Legends.
“As we welcome the new class of Special Merit Award honorees, it gives us a chance to reward and recognize the influence they’ve had in the music community regardless of genre,” Harvey Mason jr., chair and interim president/CEO of the Recording Academy, said in a statement.
Here’s a detailed look at this year’s honorees:
Lifetime Achievement Awards:
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five: The group was formed in the South Bronx in 1978. The group, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, consisted of Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, The Kidd Creole, Keef Cowboy, Mr. Ness/Scorpio and Rahiem. The group was praised for its use of turntablism, break-beat deejaying, choreographed stage routines, and lyricism. The group’s 1982 classic “The Message” was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2012.
Lionel Hampton: The jazz musician started his career as a drummer in Chicago in the 1920s before he played the vibraphone with Louis Armstrong. In the 1930s, he broke barriers with the Benny Goodman Quartet, one of America’s first integrated jazz bands. In the 1940s, he formed his own Lionel Hampton Orchestra, which became one of the longest running orchestras in jazz history. Hampton received five Grammy nominations between 1984 and 1991, but he never won. He received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1992. Hampton and his Orchestra’s 1942 classic “Flying Home” was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1996. Hampton died in 2002 at age 94.
Marilyn Horne: The opera star, 86, received four Grammys, including the 1964 award for most promising new classical recording artist. (She has now officially fulfilled that promise!) Horne received 15 Grammy nominations between 1964 and 1993. She received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995.
Salt-N-Pepa: The trio, consisting of Salt (Cheryl James), Pepa (Sandra Denton) and DJ Spinderella (Deidra Roper), was one of the first all-female rap ensembles. Formed in Queens, New York, in 1985, the group crafted hits such as “Push It,” “Shoop” and “Whatta Man.” The group received five Grammy nominations between 1988 and 1996. It won the 1994 award for best rap performance by a duo or group for “None Of Your Business.”
Selena: The Tejano queen received two Grammy nominations in 1993-94. She won the 1993 award for best Mexican American album for Live, marking the first time a female Tejano artist had won in the category. Selena was just 23 when she was shot to death in 1995.
Talking Heads: The group, formed in 1975 in New York City, helped to pioneer new wave by blending elements of punk, rock, art pop, funk, and world music with an avant-garde aesthetic. The group received two Grammy nominations (in 1983 and 88), but never won. Group member David Byrne went on to win a Grammy and an Oscar on his own for co-scoring The Last Emperor. Byrne also made the cover of TIME in October 1986 in a story titled “Rock’s Renaissance Man.” The other group members were Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison. In 2002, 11 years after the group disbanded, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Ed Cherney: Cherney’s four-decade career began as an assistant engineer working with Bruce Swedien and Quincy Jones on Michael Jackson’s 1979 classic, Off the Wall. Cherney went on to record, mix and engineer albums for such artists as The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac. Cherney won four Grammys for his work with Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy and Willie Nelson. He received five nominations total between 1991 and 2018. He also founded the Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing. Cherney died in 2019 at age 69.
Benny Golson: Golson, 91, has composed more than 300 works over his 70-year career. He has composed and arranged music for such artists as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, and fellow 2021 Special Merit Awards honoree Lionel Hampton. Golson received two Grammy nominations (in 1974 and 1998), but has yet to win a Grammy in competition.
Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds: Babyface, 61, has won 11 Grammys, including album of the year for his work on Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard, record of the year for producing Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” and a record four awards for producer of the year, non-classical (the first of them shared with L.A. Reid). Babyface amassed 49 Grammy nominations between 1988 and 2014.
Technical Grammy Award:
Daniel Weiss: Weiss is regarded as one of the pioneers of digital technology. In 1985, he founded Weiss Engineering Ltd. in Zurich, Switzerland. The company has designed and manufactured groundbreaking digital audio equipment for mastering studios, including the IBIS digital mixing console and the Gambit Series digital products.
Here is the Recording Academy’s description of these awards and how the recipients are chosen: “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 Recording Academy’s national board of trustees determines the honorees of both awards. Technical Grammy Award recipients are voted on by the Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing advisory council and chapter committees, and are ratified by the Academy’s Trustees. The award is presented to individuals and companies who have made contributions of outstanding technical significance to the recording industry.”