On a night when the Recording Academy pulled out a tribute to Prince, country music partied like it was 1992 at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards.
Tanya Tucker, who attended the ceremony at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in ’92, pocketed the first two Grammys of her career at Los Angeles’ Staples Center on Jan. 26. While I’m Livin’, produced by Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings, snagged best country album, and “Bring My Flowers Now” won best country song for Tucker and Carlile, plus their co-writers, Phil and Tim Hanseroth.
Delbert McClinton, who shared a nomination with Tucker in ’92 for their raucous duet, “Tell Me About It,” collected this year’s honor for best traditional blues album with Tall, Dark & Handsome.
Additionally, Billy Ray Cyrus — whose 1992 debut, “Achy Breaky Heart,” brought his first Grammy nominations — finally won his first two awards as his Lil Nas X collaboration, “Old Town Road,” picked up best pop duo/group performance and best music video.
“This is really Tanya’s moment,” said Carlile during the Grammy Premiere Ceremony, where the bulk of the trophies were handed out prior to the CBS telecast. “This is her song, and this song is a story of her life.”
Carlile then addressed Tucker, who was standing at her side: “It’s one of the great honors of my life to stand up here next to you, Tanya, while you get your first Grammy at 61 years old. A woman in country music leading the way!”
Though their awards were given off-camera, Tucker and Cyrus performed during the broadcast, which ran beyond its scheduled three-and-a-half hours. Carlile played piano as Tucker delivered “Flowers” in a stripped-down setting, bringing attention to the singer’s raspy voice and the story’s meaty topic: a plea for in-the-moment joy while contemplating mortality.
Cyrus sang a round of “Old Town Road” while playing his left-handed guitar as part of a multiartist set where teen country phenom Mason Ramsey, genre-hopping Diplo and seven-member K-pop group BTS also took a spin on the hooky piece.
Prior to “Old Town Road,” Cyrus’ last Grammy nomination ironically came with a 1992 collaboration that counted Tucker in the cast. Dolly Parton sang lead on that single, “Romeo,” nominated the same year that Whitney Houston cleaned up with a remake of Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” True to form, Parton’s presence was felt at the 2020 show, though she was not present. Her work with Australian duo for King & Country on “God Only Knows” captured best contemporary Christian music performance/song.
Its five songwriters — including country composers Josh Kerr (“Dibs,” “Love Me Like You Mean It”) and Jordan Reynolds (“10,000 Hours,” “Tequila”) — shared in the spoils. And when Parton came aboard, she vowed to bring its message of resilience to a wider audience.
“She said, ‘I love this song because it’s reaching to the marginalized, to the depressed, to the suicidal,’ which is all of us at some point,” recalled for King & Country’s Luke Smallbone. “And then she said this — I’m in her Dolly accent — she said, ‘I want to take this song from Dollywood to Bollywood to Hollywood.’ And we did it. Golly, we took it all the way.”
Willie Nelson, who won six Grammys prior to ’92, earned the 10th of his career in absentia: best solo country performance, for “Ride Me Back Home.”
Not every country victory or appearance felt like a 1992 throwback. Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani held hands as they wrapped a performance of their new single, “Nobody but You.” Little Big Town sang a section of “My Girl” with its Motown originator, Smokey Robinson, during a presenter role. Keith Urban and Shania Twain also handed out trophies, the latter bestowing best country duo/group performance on Dan + Shay, who won for a second straight year with “Speechless.”
“I’m going to put my heart right up to this microphone — you can literally hear it beating out of my chest right now,” said Dan Smyers in an acceptance speech with lead vocalist Shay Mooney. Smyers singled out their spouses as an important ingredient for their music.
“Thank you to my wife, Abby, who’s in the crowd right there,” he said, “for inspiring this song, for inspiring every song that we write, for inspiring everything we do in our lives.”
The Grammys aimed to inspire in the midst of turmoil. The Recording Academy’s executive team and the nominating process were thrown into controversy when president/CEO Deborah Dugan was placed on administrative leave. The event arrived at the end of a week in which a reported 50 million Americans watched some portion of the contentious impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. And NBA legend Kobe Bryant — who played for the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center, the same building where the Grammys were presented — died in a helicopter crash, along with his daughter Gianna and seven other victims, just hours prior to the show’s start time.
The audience was encouraged, during both the telecast and the Premiere Ceremony, to celebrate music as a source of healing and to use it to change hearts in the current climate.
Tucker certainly found healing in her night. Back in 1992, she told reporters that she would not attend another Grammy event because she was unhappy with the lack of attention that her genre received from the academy. “It’s known that country music is the world’s greatest music now,” she said at the time. “I just don’t think they give us enough respect.”
Rapper Sean LOVE “Diddy” Combs similarly chastised the academy the night before this year’s ceremony for perceived slights of hip-hop. But Tucker is singing a different tune after “Bring My Flowers Now” brought her a Grammy now.
“The last year’s been a big, big, long wild ride for me,” she said in one of her two acceptance speeches as she thanked her collaborators for “helping me finish this song that I’d started over 40 years ago. And I just want to say that no matter how young or old you are, never stop following your dreams. Keep going.”
This article first appeared in the Billboard Country Update newsletter. Click here to sign up for free.