Controversy over winners and losers has been part of the Grammy experience since the very first presentations, which took place on May 4, 1959—60 years ago tomorrow (Saturday). The biggest controversy that year had to do with a disappointing showing by Frank Sinatra, who was coming off one of the biggest years of his long career. He had two No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 in 1958—Come Fly with Me and Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely.
Sinatra was the year’s top Grammy nominee, with six noms, including two for album of the year (the aforementioned albums) and two for best vocal performance, male (Come Fly with Me and “Witchcraft”). The star wound up winning just one award—and it wasn’t even for his singing. It was for best album cover for his art direction of Only the Lonely.
Sinatra attended the event, which was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif.—now best known for hosting the Golden Globes every year. Other attendees included Sinatra’s fellow Rat Pack members Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin, as well as fellow nominees Henry Mancini and Peggy Lee. Comedian Mort Sahl served as MC.
Sinatra’s two noms for album of the year no doubt worked against him in that category. The award went to Mancini for The Music from Peter Gunn. The album featured music from a weekly TV detective series that debuted in September 1958 and ran for three seasons. (Mancini’s album was released after the Dec. 31, 1958 eligibility cut-off for the 1958 awards. It’s a mystery how it was nominated in the first place. It was probably just a goof that slipped by the small staff at the fledgling Recording Academy.)
Perry Como‘s silky “Catch a Falling Star” won best vocal performance, male, beating the two Sinatra entries. “Witchcraft” and “Catch a Falling Star” were both nominated for record of the year, but lost to Domenico Modugno‘s lounge music staple “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare).”
There were just 28 categories at the first Grammys, the lowest number ever. There were five double winners—Modugno, Mancini, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Ross Bagdasarian Sr., the creator of The Chipmunks. In addition to record of the year, Modugno took song of the year for “Volare,” which is, to this day, the only foreign-language song to win record or song of the year.
Bagdasarian won best comedy performance and best recording for children, both for “The Chipmunk Song.” The smash was also nominated for record of the year. It is, to this day, the only children’s or comedy recording to be nominated in that category.
Sinatra didn’t let his disappointing showing at the 1st annual Grammy Awards keep him down for long. He came back the following year, and this time won album of the year for Come Dance with Me! He would win that award two more times, for September of My Years (1965) and A Man and His Music (1966). Only two other artists in Grammy history—Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder—are three-time winners in this category.