Top 10 iconic Black Grammy performances
TheGrio highlights 10 of the most amazing performances to ever happen on the stage of the Grammys
The 64th Grammy Awards are airing live on Sunday, and the performance list is stacked.
Silk Sonic is slated to open the ceremony, while H.E.R., Nas and Jon Batiste are set to grace the stage as well. Viewers can anticipate witnessing amazing performances at the annual music awards show, not just for the big stars to perform their big hits, but for once-in-a-lifetime collaborations.
The history of the Grammy Awards is full of extraordinary live performances from the best artists of all time. From Stevie Wonder bringing the funk in 1975 with “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” to Alicia Keys playing the songs she wishes she wrote while honoring Hazel Scott in 2019, the Grammys have created some special moments in live music.
TheGrio has selected 10 of the very best performances to get primed for the big show:
B.B. King, Dizzy Gillespie Lead All-Star Jazz Tribute, 1986
At the 1986 Grammy Awards, the Recording Academy staged a massive all-star tribute to honor Jazz music. Among the performances was a set by Blues legend B.B. King, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and pianist Herbie Hancock playing “Groovin’ High.”
At the conclusion of that jazz standard, the legendary ensemble of instrumentalists was joined by equally legendary singers for a rendition of “How High the Moon.” The singers included Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams and The Manhattan Transfer.
Bobby McFerrin, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Buster Williams Perform ‘Round Midnight,’ 1987
Singer Bobby McFerrin took home the Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male trophy at the 1987 awards show for his rendition of Thelonious Monk’s jazz standard, “Round Midnight.” He also performed the song at that year’s event, the 29th annual, mimicking the sound of several instruments with his voice. He was joined, one by one, by pianist Herbie Hancock, drummer Tony Williams and bassist Buster Williams.
This was a virtuoso display of McFerrin’s singular vocal abilities that helped him win 10 Grammys over his career, at the time his fourth.
Michael Jackson Performs ‘The Way You Make Me Feel/Man in the Mirror,’ 1988
Michael Jackson went home empty-handed after losing all four of his Grammy nominations in 1988. Despite not winning an award, Jackson was still the talk of the ceremony, thanks to a legendary medley he performed of his number one hits from his album Bad.
Jackson began with a slick, jazz-inspired arrangement of “The Way You Make Me Feel” before performing the original version with some amazing choreography. He then brought the crowd to its feet with an inspirational performance of “Man in the Mirror” that featured a full gospel choir.
Natalie Cole, Nat King Cole Duet of ‘Unforgettable,’ 1992
Natalie Cole was already a Grammy-winning, hit-making R&B and pop star by the beginning of the 1990s. But her 1991 album, Unforgettable…With Love, won her a new audience. As a tribute to her father, Nat King Cole, the album featured Natalie performing the standards that made her father a household name.
At the 1992 Grammys, she made history by performing a duet of the title track with her father, who died in 1965. With an audio and video projection, Natalie Cole sang side-by-side, line-by-line with her dad, making for an unforgettable performance. Cole won three Grammys that night for the album and title track.
Aretha Franklin Fills In For Pavarotti, 1998
At the 1998 Grammy Awards, opera icon Luciano Pavarotti was to receive the Living Legend Award and had planned to perform “Nessun Dorma.” Unfortunately, he fell ill during rehearsals and missed the ceremony. Enter Aretha Franklin.
Franklin had performed the same song at an event nights before, but wasn’t able to rehearse with the orchestra that rehearsed with Pavarotti. Despite this, the Queen of Soul became the Queen of Opera for the evening and gave an unbelievable rendition of “Nessun Dorma” for the ages.
Prince and Beyonce Perform ‘Crazy’ Medley, 2004
In 2004, Prince opened the 2004 Grammy Awards with a medley in recognition of Purple Rain’s 20th anniversary. Prince wasn’t alone, though.
Joining him on stage was Beyonce, who had launched her solo career months before with Dangerously in Love. Together, they rocked the crowd with “Purple Rain,” “Baby I’m a Star” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” They fit in Bey’s “Crazy in Love” for good measure.
Usher & James Brown Perform ‘Caught Up/Sex Machine,’ 2006
Usher was the dominant singing and dancing artist in the world at the time of the 2006 Grammys. One year removed from winning three Grammys for his Confessions album, Usher shared the stage with the ultimate song-and-dance man, James Brown.
With Usher opening things with “Caught Up,” and Brown coming in to perform his classic, “Sex Machine,” the two superstars traded dance moves. It made for an epic seal of approval from the Godfather of Soul to Usher.
Kanye West Honors Him Mother with ‘Hey Mama,’ 2008
The 2008 Grammy Awards was a bittersweet moment for Kanye West. Although he would win four Grammys that night, it was just months after the death of his beloved mother, Dr. Donda West. The producer/rapper paid tribute to his mom during his performance that night.
West teamed up with Daft Punk for a high-energy rendition of his number one single, “Stronger,” from 2007’s Graduation. For a follow-up, West performed “Hey Mama,” his tribute to Donda from 2005’s Late Registration. His new opening line to the song, “Last night I saw you in my dreams/Now I can’t wait to go to sleep,” West showed a vulnerability that resonated with the audience.
Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers, Stevie Wonder “Get Lucky,” 2014
The 2014 Grammys was dominated by the success of “Get Lucky,” the smash collaboration between Daft Punk, Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams. On the night Daft Punk won Album of the Year for Random Access Memory, the collective teamed up with Stevie Wonder for a medley of the ages.
Duplicating a recording studio on the stage, the group played the singles “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance;” Daft Punk’s electro-pop classics “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and “Around the World;” Wonder’s Latin dance classic, “Another Star;” and “Le Freak” from Rodger’s band, Chic. It made for a beautiful homage to generations of dance music.
Kendrick Lamar Performs “The Blacker The Berry/Alright/Untitled 3,” 2016
Kendrick Lamar’s performance for the 2016 Grammy Awards was perhaps the most anticipated of that evening. By the time the curtain went up, the Compton rapper had already won five Grammys that night, thanks to his instant classic, To Pimp a Butterfly.
As a coronation of Lamar’s stature as the biggest rapper in the world, he gave one of the most unforgettable live television performances of any kind. From the righteous indignation of “The Blacker the Berry” inside of a riotous prison ward to performing “Alright” in the fields of Africa to a single spotlight for an untitled song dedicated to Trayvon Martin’s killing, Lamar’s Grammy display may never be topped.
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