Since CBS will air the 50th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday February 10th, I decided to devote this week's Thursday Thirteen to one of the Recording Academy's most prestigious awards... The Best New Artist Grammy. According to Grammy.com, the award is given to a new artist who releases, during the Eligibility Year, the first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist.
Because some of the winners faded quickly into obscurity after winning, the award is sometimes considered "the kiss of death". To be fair, there have been just as many victors with long careers (Tom Jones, Carly Simon and Mariah Carey, for example) as there have been those who ended up on the side of a milk carton in the show biz section of the grocery store (Starland Vocal Band, Marc Cohn, Paula Cole, etc.). The award has also seen its share of controversy due to the nominating process used over the years (seemingly ineligble performers are allowed to compete, while others are left off the ballot).
Below are 13 winners over the years in chronological order. The year for which they won is in parentheses.
1. Bobby Darin (1959)- Darin, whose hits included "Splish Splash", "Mack the Knife", and "Dream Lover", holds the distinction of being the first recipient of the Best New Artist Grammy. His competition was fairly weak; the only recognizable nominee besides Darin was Edd "Kookie" Byrnes (star of "77 Sunset Strip" who had a hit with "Kookie, Kookie Lend Me Your Comb").
2. The Beatles (1964)- Without question, The Beatles had the best breakthrough year of any Best New Artist winner ever (five #1 singles and five #1 albums just to name two of their accomplishments in 1964). Had they lost, it would have gone down as one of the biggest gaffes in Grammy history.
3. Bobbie Gentry (1967)- Ms. Gentry (best known for "Ode To Billie Joe") was the first female soloist to win the award. Her competition that year included The 5th Dimension, Harpers Bizarre, and Jefferson Airplane. Although Gentry faded from the limelight, she did so on her own terms: she retired from show business after a Christmas 1978 appearance on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson".
4. The Carpenters (1970)- Although Karen and Richard had a successful career, there are some who feel that they shouldn't have won that year. Melba Moore, Anne Murray, and The Partridge Family (wtf?) were also up for the award the year The Carpenters took home the trophy. Oh yeah, there was another nominee... some bespectacled dude named Elton John.
5. Natalie Cole (1975)- The daughter of Nat was the first African American to win the trophy. Besides Ms. Cole, the only notable nominee for Best New Artist that year was K.C. & the Sunshine Band.
6. Christopher Cross (1980)- To this day, Cross is the only performer to personally win the "Big Four" Grammy Awards (Best Record, Song, Album, and New Artist) in the same year. Although Norah Jones' debut album and the song "Don't Know Why" won the same four trophies in 2003, she didn't personally win Song of the Year because it's a songwriter's award.
7. Culture Club (1983)- The Karma Chameleon guys took down fellow nominees Big Country, Eurythmics, Men Without Hats, and Musical Youth to walk away with the Best New Artist Grammy. During his acceptance speech, lead singer Boy George tossed a kiss to the camera and said, "Thank you, America. You've got good taste, style and you know a good drag queen when you see one!"
8. Sade- Although Sade was worthy of the award, there was another singer who likely would have won if she had been allowed to compete: Whitney Houston. Due to a technicality (an artist is not eligible if he or she had a previous label or album credit), Ms. Houston was barred from competing. Before her debut release, she made minor contributions to albums by Jermaine Jackson and Teddy Pendergrass.
9. Milli Vanilli (1989)- Due to the revelation that members Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan didn't sing on their debut, this was the only time in Grammy history that an award was revoked. When you stop to consider that Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, and Indigo Girls were among the Best New Artist nominees, Milli Vanilli still had no business winning even if the vocals on the album did belong to them. The Grammy voters made sure that they didn't repeat this embarrassment when they named Mariah Carey Best New Artist in 1990.
10. Toni Braxton (1993)- Ms. Braxton won the award over Belly, Blind Melon, Digable Planets, and SWV (Sisters With Voices). She also took home the Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (Another Sad Love Song) that year.
11. Hootie and the Blowfish (1995)- One of pjazzy's personal favorites (just kidding), Hootie and the Blowfish were the only males nominated that year (they defeated Brandy, Alanis Morissette, Joan Osborne, and Shania Twain). The ladies of the music world took revenge because after the Hootie victory, female soloists went on to win the Best New Artist Grammy 7 years in a row (1996-2002).
12. Shelby Lynne (2000)- Ms. Lynne's victory was a head scratcher for many (including me), because she had been recording and releasing records for over 10 years before winning the award! Somewhere, Whitney Houston (see #8 above) was likely stewing. The other nominees for 2000 were Jill Scott, Papa Roach, Brad Paisley, and Sisqo.
13. John Legend (2005)- Along with the Best New Artist Award, Legend also took home trophies for Best R&B Album (Get Lifted) and Best R&B Male Vocal Performance (Ordinary People). Ciara, Sugarland, Keane, and Fall Out Boy were the other nominees for the Best New Artist award that year.
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