No funeral marches were played, but the death of disco was solemnly commemorated -- not a minute too soon -- last night in the recording industry's 22nd annual orgy of self-congratulations, the Grammy Awards.
It was not that disco records didn't win any prizes -- just that no fuss was made about them. This was the year that disco joined gospel music, jazz fusion and folk, among others, as a special award category -- in a sense, a protected musical species where awards can be won without going platinum.
There were no really big winners this year in the awards, voted by approximately 4,500 members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Billy Joel and Dionne Warwick (both Grammy veterans) each won two awards -- far from a clean sweep -- and so did Earth, Wind and Fire, John Williams, whose capture of awards in the soundtrack category is becoming an annual event.
The trend, obviously, was toward trendlessness.
There was a bit of nostalgia in the presentation of the best male rock vocalist award to Bob Dylan for "Gotta Serve Somebody," creating for a moment the illusion that the '(0s had never occurred. But when he accepted the award, Dylan announced, "I didn't expect this, and I want to thank the Lord" -- and clearly something had happened since "The Times They Are A-Changing" became the anthem of a generation.
More down to earth was singer Ricky Lee Jones, who was named Best new artist. "I thank my mother and my producer, my record company, my lawyer, my accountant and you all," she said.
Disco queen Donna Summer won the award for best female rock vocalist with "Hot Stuff," but missed out on major nominations such as best album and best pop female vocalist. In the category of best disco recording, the winner was Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive."
Other notable winners in special categories included Emmy Lou Harris (best country vocalist, female) and the Broadway show, "Sweeney Todd" which won in two categories: cast show album and best-engineered recording, classical. The industry designation of this work as a classic was unexpected, though not necessarily inaccurate.
Technically, the Doobie Brothers might be considered the big winers with four Grammies. But two of these, best song and best arrangements were given to the song, "What a Fool Believes" rather than to the performing group. Otherwise, the voters in these awards showed rather divided opinions -- perhaps reflecting a year in which the recording industry suffered serious economic problems. Normally, most of the major Grammy Awards seem to parallel the economic bottom line, and in 1979 the bottom line was shaky.
As usual, in the two-hour, televised awards ceremony, classical music was given some of the shortest shrift. Barely mentioned in passing were these winners -- including Aldo Cicco lini (for two Bartok piano concertos), Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony (two awards, one for the completer Brahms symphonies and for his "German Requiem"), Valdimir Horowitz and Luciano Pavarotti.
Similarly given a quick shuffle were Muddy Waters, who won in the "ethnic or traditional" category. Sir John Gielgud (for a recording of readings from Shakespeare) and such varied jazz performers as Weather Report, Oscar Peterson, the Gary Burton-Chick Corea duet and Duke Ellington. A historic Ellington, recording, made live in 1940, won the award for big-band jazz -- but only a careful listner would have noticed.
While the Grammy ceremony showed a consensus that disco is dead, they presented no evidence that anything else is alive -- including master of ceremonies (and male country vocalist winner) Kenny Rogers.