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The Road to the GRAMMY Awards



Introduction: History of the GRAMMY Awards

On May 4, 1959, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (presently, Recording Academy) hosted the first GRAMMY Awards ceremony at simultaneous banquets held in Beverly Hills and New York. Celebrating recordings from 1958, the initial ceremony was not televised and was attended by industry insiders and select artists. Six months later, the 2nd Annual GRAMMY Awards were held once again in Los Angeles and New York, however, this time, the awards were televised and featured taped on “NBC Sunday Showcase.” Since its early years, the GRAMMY Awards have constantly evolved – from captivating live productions, to expanding categories, to touching tributes, the awards ceremony has been and continues to be the premiere celebration of musical excellence.

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Henry Mancini: The First Win
Henry Mancini at the 12th Annual GRAMMY Awards, 1970

Over the course of his 40-year career, Henry Mancini composed countless film scores and television themes, recorded over 90 albums across several musical styles, conducted 600 symphony performances, appeared at three command performances for the Royal Family, and wrote two books.

Mancini instantly became a part of GRAMMY history when he won the first GRAMMY for Album Of The Year in 1958. Throughout his lifetime, Mancini was nominated for 72 GRAMMY Awards and won 20, all of which are shown here. In 1995, the year after his death, Mancini was honored with a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award at the 37th Annual GRAMMY Awards.

How to Win a GRAMMY: The Process

The Making of a GRAMMY

John Billings, better known by his nickname, “the GRAMMY Man,” is the artist behind the making of music’s most prized award: the GRAMMY.

Billings has been creating the GRAMMY Award by hand for the past 40 years after he took over for master crafter, Bob Graves. Each piece is handmade by Billings and his Ridgway, Colorado-based team. Each year Billings’ team receives a list of nominations, which they then use to create an estimate of how many awards will need to be produced. The awards, which are composed of three separate pieces (the base, gramophone cabinet, and tone arm), are all assembled separately and made from a special material — appropriately called GRAMMIUM — and finished with a coating of 24 karat gold. No matter the nominee or award category, every award is created the same, and takes approximately 15 hours to make. Since the first GRAMMY Awards ceremony, the award has changed several times, but for the past 30 years, the design has stayed roughly the same.

How to Win a GRAMMY

The GRAMMY Awards are selected annually by voting members of the Recording Academy. To be considered for a GRAMMY, a recording must first be submitted to the Academy by a member or registered record company. All submitted recordings are then screened and placed into categories such as Pop, Rock, Classical, and Jazz.

The resulting ballot of screened recordings is then sent to voting members of the Academy. Each voting member must stay within his or her fields of expertise and cast votes in no more than 20 genre categories. All Recording Academy voting members vote for Best New Artist and Record, Album, and Song Of The Year; these general awards may be drawn from any field.

An independent accounting firm tallies all of the nominations and the final ballot of GRAMMY nominees is produced. The ballots are distributed to voting members, who return their completed ballots directly to the accounting firm.

The final votes are tallied and sealed in envelopes, with the results remaining unknown until the winners are announced during the GRAMMY Awards ceremony.

Changing Rules and Guidelines

This year, the Recording Academy announced that it has made major changes to several rules and guidelines that reflect its ongoing commitment to evolve with the musical landscape and to ensure that the GRAMMY Awards nominating process and rules are more transparent and fair.

“As a peer-driven and peer-voted award, members of the music community are directly involved in the growth and preservation of the GRAMMYs process,” said Bill Freimuth, Chief Awards Officer at the Recording Academy. “Each year we receive a number of rule change proposals from artists, producers and songwriters asking us to reevaluate our process to better reflect the current state of the music industry and how it’s evolved over the past 12 months.”

The new changes that will go into effect immediately for the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards include updates to the Best New Artist category, Latin, R&B and Rap Fields, Nominations Review Committees, and more.  In addition, the GRAMMY Awards Rules & Guidelines are now, for the first time, available and can be found here.

For the full list of rule amendments for the 63rd GRAMMY Awards, which were voted on and passed at the Recording Academy’s most recent semiannual Board of Trustees meeting held in May 2020, visit here.

Music’s Biggest Night: The GRAMMY Awards

The Premiere Ceremony

Each year prior to the GRAMMY Awards telecast, the Premiere Ceremony spotlights the diversity of music, honoring GRAMMY winners in more than 70 categories. Formerly referred to as the GRAMMY Awards Pre-Telecast Ceremony, the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony takes place at the Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live on the day of the GRAMMY Awards and is streamed live internationally on Attended by nominees and industry VIPs, the star-studded Premiere Ceremony is a memorable affair with notable guest presenters and live performances presented with full production values appropriate for the GRAMMY Awards.

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On the Red Carpet

The epitome of glitz and glamour, the red carpet guides GRAMMY nominees, performers, presenters, and VIP attendees into Music’s Biggest Night.

The tradition of the red carpet goes back for centuries, and has become synonymous with prestige and royalty. In the 1920s, the red carpet became the routine prelude into galas and movie premieres. By the early 1960s, award shows began to adopt the tradition and added the pre-ceremony spectacle to their televised broadcasts.

Today, nearly 5,000 GRAMMY attendees—guests, media, and talent—walk the red carpet, which spans over 600 feet outside of the Arena. The GRAMMY Awards red carpet has become a place for fashion designers to exhibit their most dazzling designs of the year, generating buzz alongside the highly anticipated performances and award ceremony. Each year many nominees and guests wear the latest styles from the world’s leading designers — or custom outfits that are far from formal.  Here are some of the most fashionably hip pieces from years past.

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Pierre Cossette & Ken Ehrlich: Pioneers of the GRAMMY Awards Telecast

Original GRAMMY Awards Executive Producer Pierre Cossette got his start as a booking agent for MCA before founding Dunhill Records—the successful record label that launched careers for well-known artists including the Mamas and Papas, Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, and Johnny Rivers.

In the early 1970s, the production rights to the existing GRAMMY telecast became available. That show, an hour-long compilation of recorded performances, had not been very successful. Cossette, however, saw potential in turning it into a live broadcast, and optioned the rights to do so.

In the late 1970s, Pierre Cossette recruited Ken Ehrlich, who has played a key role in shaping the GRAMMY Awards telecast ever since. Ehrlich’s most notable contribution is the one-of-a-kind musical performances and pairings for which he successfully recruits artists from across genres and generations.

The GRAMMY Awards have grown from a modest telecast to an arena-sized institution. After 35 successful years, Cossette stepped down as Executive Producer, handing the reigns over to his son, John Cossette, and Ken Ehrlich. Cossette’s vision and passion continue to guide and inspire the show to this day. The 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards in January 2020 marked Ehrlich’s 40th and final telecast.

Additional Honors: The Special Merit Awards

Annual Recording Academy Awards

The Recording Academy represents the voices of performers, songwriters, producers, engineers, and all music professionals. Dedicated to ensuring the recording arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, the Recording Academy honors music’s history while investing in its future through the GRAMMY Museum, advocating on behalf of music creators, supporting the music community in times of need, and celebrating artistic excellence through the GRAMMY Awards—music’s only peer-recognized accolades and highest achievements.

The following awards are presented by the Recording Academy each year to recognize the accomplishments of creators, innovators, philanthropists, and educators. Click the links to learn more about the awards and past honorees: