Posted by S.Storch | Posted in Samantha's Archive | Posted on 13-02-2012
I first discovered my love for music in 2000. Our first grade play was “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” and I was cast as a singer in the legendary girl group, The Supremes. To prepare for my role, I went to my school’s library and took out a biography on the lead singer, Diana Ross. I read that book over and over again until it consumed me. I had my dad take me to Coconut Records and buy me cassette tapes of The Supremes classic records. I even rented Motown 25 on VHS from the town video store. The Supremes became my life. I cried when I found out that one of the original singers, Florence Ballard, had spiraled into depression and poverty and died in 1972. Although Flo was incredibly important to me, it was Diana Ross who had captured my heart. She was EVERYTHING to me. When my group performed “Stop! In The Name Of Love” in our school play, I felt like I was her. I had my hair combed out like RCA era Diana Ross and my gold sequin dress made by my mom (on her Tina Knowles swag) fit like a glove. It was the Diana Ross image combined with the Motown sound that put me on cloud 9.
I was unable to shake this feeling, even long after the play came and went. The music of the Supremes brought my 6 year old self so much joy. You can only imagine how I felt when my mom surprised me by taking me to Madison Square Garden to see Diana Ross perform live. I had never been happier. It was my first concert, but more importantly it was my HERO who was performing. We sat up in the nosebleeds but even from up at the top of the Garden, it was clear that that figure and that HAIR was undeniably Miss Ross. Those feelings that I felt that night and that year overall never left me. Being exposed to Motown at such a young age has always given me a stronger appreciation for music and craftsmanship. What I felt, and still feel, for Diana Ross is what I feel for our last true superstar, Beyoncé. This love that I have for their music and their spirit and their dedication to the furthering of music both as black women is indescribable, which is why the Grammy Awards left me fuming.
I’m going to take it back to this past December. Nominations were coming up. I had no doubt that Beyoncé would rack up a good amount of nominations, hopefully a fair amount of wins as well. The voting committee shut down those ideas with the quickness when the nominees were announced and Beyoncé’s name was on the list twice. Two times out of 78 total categories, 12 of which her work was submitted to. She was nominated for “Party” in Rap/Sung Collaboration and for the I Am World Tour DVD for Long Form Music Video. Her critically acclaimed album 4 wasn’t nominated for Album of the Year. Hell, it wasn’t even nominated for Best R&B Album, a category once broken into two, Traditional and Contemporary, the latter of which Beyoncé won with each of her previous solo efforts. There was no recognition for “Love on Top,” no recognition for “1+1″ and I felt personally disrespected on Beyoncé’s behalf. Because of this blatant snub combined with the new addition to her family, I was right to think that Beyoncé would stay home this year.
I didn’t even plan on watching the Grammys until they found a way to draw me in. Diana Ross was to be presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. When I found this out, my heart SOARED. After over four decades in the game, 12 Grammy nominations, and 0 wins, I was so ecstatic for her. Miss Ross the BAWSE was going to get a lifetime.achievement.award. There was finally a silver lining in the bleak outlook of the Grammys this year! As the day of the Grammys began to approach, I was surprised that no announcements had been made as to who would honor Miss Ross. During the telecast, there was no mention of a performance, so I began to get nervous. I just kept saying to myself, “They won’t do Diana like this, they won’t do Diana like this.” The show carries on, mediocre performance after mediocre performance, with no light at the end of the tunnel in sight. The final commercial break passes and FINALLY mention is made of Diana Ross. She is introduced as a legend and a worthy recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Finally, after months of anticipation, that figure and that HAIR that had made my dreams come true back in 2000 were up on stage. And she was rattling off the Album of the Year Nominees. Insert a record scratch here. WHAT?! This is what our Lifetime Achievement Award winner is relegated to? I say “our” as a representation of the black community because it has to be noted that Glen Campbell was a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient as well and he was given a televised performance. OUR recipient got to read a teleprompter for 14 seconds.
Then, just like that, Adele had tied Beyoncé’s record of most wins by a female in one night (6) and Sir Paul McCartney was playing the show off. And I was sitting here feeling like I had been punched in the stomach.I can honestly say that I felt sick and close to tears after this year’s Grammy Awards. My two favorite women in the music industry were blatantly disrespected. Right there. on MY tv screen. So while sitting in this very same spot I’m in right now, I reached over to my desk, grabbed my wallet, and pulled out my race card. I didn’t want to do it, but it had to be done. The disrespect shown to Diana Ross tonight is only but a piece of the whole. I doubt everyone caught everything that was going on during the telecast tonight, so I’d be happy to break it down.
We’ll start off with Etta James, who opened the doors for black artists to cross over. She passed away last month and it was announced that the Grammys would be doing a tribute to her. They got Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt to perform. Alicia’s seated behind a keyboard and Bonnie is perched on a stool, guitar at the ready. They perform their rendition of “Sunday Kind of Love,” which isn’t at the “At Last” level of recognition. Not everybody recognized it, but we’ll ignore that. What I would like to know is why there wasn’t even a single image of Etta James displayed during this performance. Let us not forget that this is a performance in memory of a musical pioneer who had passed. There was an entire month to plan something special, but Etta James doesn’t even get a picture of herself up on a screen. Etta was a black artist during the civil rights era whose music crossed over onto pop radio, and DAMMIT her skin color was important! So here, in 2012, deleting her face off of her music is a slap in the face to the work that she put in to bring black artists over to other formats.
Let’s move onto the awards. It’s a damn shame that the rap and R&B categories are rarely televised, so having both Rap Performance AND R&B Album of the Year was a real treat. Rap was first, and to very little surprise, Jay-Z and Kanye West won for “Otis.” Also, to very little surprise, neither artist was there to collect the award. It was known for a while that The Throne would be watching the Grammys from home, so why bother to televise the award? Following was R&B, which sent Chris Brown home with his first ever Grammy for his album F.A.M.E. It was as if I was watching Sesame Street and they were going to start singing, “One of these things is not like the other/ One of these things just doesn’t belong…” Chris Brown was in a category with El DeBarge, R. Kelly, Ledisi, and Kelly Price, all of whom made R&B albums. Anyone who has heard F.A.M.E. knows that the music is not R&B. This win is flawed on multiple levels. Personally, it seems like Chris’ album’s spot within the nominees was supposed to be Beyoncé’s, but they snatched her out and put Chris in. On a larger level though, Chris Brown’s album shouldn’t have been ranked amongst the others for the mere fact that it’s contemporary while the others are traditional. However, due to the Grammys recent category changes, R&B’s diversity is no longer celebrated and artists are being forced into a box to compete with other artists that they otherwise wouldn’t be up against. It’s a clever way for them to give out less awards (to black artists) because while other categories were affected by category shifts, no genre was changed up more than R&B. While Chris Brown deserves to be congratulated on his win, keep in mind that there should have been two R&B winners and that this was the only televised award given to a black person.
Chris Brown also had a big night performance-wise. In addition to his solo performance, he performed in a “tribute” to dance music along with Deadmau5, Lil Wayne, and the Foo Fighters. Common and ?uestlove introduced the performance, acknowledging Don Cornelius’ death and making it known that this performance would be in honor of the Soul Train creator. Don Cornelius was weeping for the future of music from heaven as he watched. None of what was performed was reflective of Cornelius or his contributions. The man exuded FUNK, not dubstep. Don Cornelius is undoubtedly someone who deserved a tribute performance, but why wasn’t the music that he helped bring to life performed? Why wasn’t the music that defined an entire generation performed? Where was the peace, love, and SOUUUUUUL?Tribute fail #2.
Speaking of tributes, props have to be given to Jennifer Hudson for her performance of “I Will Always Love You” in honor of “The Voice”, Whitney Houston, another pop pioneer gone too soon. At least a picture of Nippy was up on the screen. This touching tribute came after the annual video montage of figures in music who died within the previous year. Two names stood out in particular to me. Esther Gordy Edwards was the sister of Berry Gordy, who helped him get Motown off the ground. Nickolas Ashford was part of the legendary songwriting duo Ashford and (Valerie) Simpson, and was responsible for hits such as “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” And this brings us back to Diana Ross.
Diana Ross’s influence as a pop presence is unparalleled. She took a screwdriver and unhinged the doors that Etta James opened for black artists, women in particular. Her voice is responsible for Motown’s success outside of the R&B market, turning the label into an international force. After going solo, her star grew even bigger. She became an international icon, and now legend. Whitney Houston modeled much of her pop career after Diana Ross, as did Beyoncé. Without Diana Ross to lead the way, our female artists would be nowhere near where they are today. It is this influence that makes her so deserving of the Lifetime Achievement Award, and it is for this reason that it hurts so bad that she wasn’t given her deserved shine.
Whitney Houston’s tragic death has brought about many thoughts about the state of music, particularly music coming from black artists. Not only has it shown that we are losing our heroes and icons entirely too fast, but that they most likely won’t get the recognition and love that they deserve until they’re not here to see it. Black artists of a Whitney Houston caliber are rare today, with most of the ones around being from older generations. I’m just so frustrated that Diana Ross is a living legend, someone who deserves to be given so much love and appreciation, and the Grammys had the opportunity for this award to be broadcast to the public and it wasn’t. When the day comes that Diana Ross’s star is no longer here for us to witness, I don’t want any tribute performances from the Grammys. None. They had their opportunity to honor her in the flesh but wasted a rare chance.
Tonight’s awards was like a return to the 60s. It was an eerie and sad truth to face that black artists still have such a long way to go to get the recognition they deserve. It hit me while watching the Beach Boys perform. Even though the Beach Boys are one of my favorite bands, the fact that they stole from black artists like Chuck Berry back in the day is undeniable. They built their sound off of black music, and they in turn inspired the Beatles, and we all know how that went. Popular music stems from black roots, but god forbid the Grammys acknowledge that fact. Two bands were up on stage alongside the Beach Boys paying homage to their career, but Diana Ross, YOUR Diana Ross, MY Diana Ross, OUR DIANA ROSS, was seated in the audience until it came time for her to announce another artist.
I felt so much pain tonight. Race politics are still very much alive in the music and entertainment industries. The misrepresentation of black people on the Grammys tonight was damn near nauseating. It’s no coincidence Nicki Minaj was given one of the largest time slots to perform. She made a mockery of herself with a horrendous performance that warranted responses on Twitter such as “the Catholic Church should lynch her for that performance.” Lynch is a word that carries racial connotations, there’s no doubt about it. Whoever is still walking around with the notion in their head that we’re living in a post-racial society is a damned fool. As stated before, we’re losing black legends too fast, artists and musical figures who carried themselves with a poise and style not seen in too many artists today. It’s pretty clear now that the Grammys is going to wait until each one drops dead for them to pay any type of tribute to the contributions that our icons have made. It’s up to us to honor our artists while they’re still around to reap the benefits of the hard work they’ve put in and the adversities they’ve faced as minorities in the industry.
Diana Ross first showed me why I loved music. Beyoncé helped those feelings grow. After the 54th Grammy Awards, I still love music, but I have a much different perspective now than as a naïve six year old performing “Stop! In The Name Of Love.”
I love you Diana and I am so thankful for what you’ve done as an artist and as a black woman. You are truly the Boss.