Billboard began publishing in 1894, so it was already eligible for the AARP when the Grammys were just a glint in the industry’s eye. It wasn’t until 1957 that the Hollywood Beautification Committee held a meeting with West Coast label executives about promoting Los Angeles as a center of the music business. “Following the initial meeting with the beautifiers,” Billboard reported in the May 11, 1959, issue, “six record company execs remained to discuss the need for a record academy, out of which was born NARAS” — the National Academy of Recordings Arts and Sciences, now known as the Recording Academy.
The May 11, 1959, Billboard devoted a two-page spread to the “First Annual NARAS Awards Banquet,” where independent labels showed “surprising strength in the face of their Goliath counterparts.” Although Ol’ Blue Eyes would eventually win nine Grammys, an “upset in the voting was seen when Frank Sinatra left the banquet without a single performance award,” Billboard reported. The culprit? Votes split among the categories in which he was nominated. “Sinatra’s high number of nominations created an insurmountable handicap.” Meanwhile, “The Chipmunk Song” squirreled away three awards.
The Grammys first aired live on TV in 1971, when host Andy Williams demonstrated “that show business award galas can be turned into valid entertainment,” according to the March 27, 1971, Billboard. The 90-minute show featured the Carpenters, Aretha Franklin and a cameo from Paul McCartney, who “ran down the aisle” to accept an award for the Let It Be movie soundtrack. “McCartney said two words, ‘Thank you,’ in accepting the trophy from presenter John Wayne,” Billboard reported, “and disappeared out of the Palladium.”
By 1980, “the impact of NARAS’ growing younger membership was reflected in its voting the Doobie Brothers the record of the year” — for “What a Fool Believes” — according to the March 8, 1980, Billboard. Bob Dylan performed “Gotta Serve Somebody,” which won him his first Grammy, for best male rock vocal performance. Billboard said the show was “bogged down in mediocrity” and that “Dylan’s next step is obviously the Las Vegas lounge circuit.”
By 1996, the times were changing again: The March 9, 1996, Billboard hailed Alanis Morissette as one of the artists bringing “winds of change” to the show. “Morissette’s victory was a startling and largely unexpected one, given the traditional conservatism of NARAS voters,” Billboard reported. Even then-academy president Michael Greene hailed the album of the year win for the singer-songwriter’s Jagged Little Pill as “a good example of how we have picked it up.”
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 12, 2020, issue of Billboard.