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Canadian Songwriters at the Grammy Awards

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Grammy — the Holy Grail of the popular music industry. This year, among the several Canadian nominees, the one with the greatest longevity is CSHF inductee Joni Mitchell, who took home the award for best historical album, “Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1, The Early Years 1963 – 1967”.  This was Mitchell’s seventeenth nomination and ninth Grammy win over her landmark career. Mitchell was also celebrated as MusiCares “Person of the Year” to commend her artistic achievement in the music industry and dedication to philanthropy.

Other winners, including the Weeknd (best melodic rap performance for his feature on Kanye West’s song “Hurricane”) and Alex Cuba (best Latin pop album), were absent from the event while top Canadian nominee Justin Bieber lost in all eight categories that named him.

Canadian songwriters have often fared well at the Grammy awards: consider David Foster, who leads the Canadian pack with 16 well-deserved wins amid a jaw-dropping 47 nominations. And that’s only so far.

And then there is the Holy Grail of Holy Grails: the Grammy Hall of Fame, which recognizes recordings of historical significance. These recordings are, quite simply, the best of the best; recordings that have stood the test of time over many decades. Mitchell’s body of work is represented there by her albums “Clouds” (1969), “Blue” (1971), and “Court and Spark” (1974), and by the 1968 Judy Collins single of Mitchell’s timeless Both Sides Now.

Mitchell’s four entries in the Grammy Hall of Fame are certainly gratifying, but the honour for Canadian songwriter whose work appears even more often goes to CSHF inductee Neil Young. Young’s albums “After the Gold Rush” (1970) and “Harvest” (1972) are honoured, plus the memorable Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recordings Ohio (single, 1970) and “Déjà Vu” (album, 1970), and Young’s Sea of Madness on “Woodstock, the Original Soundtrack” album (1970).

In all, the Grammy Hall of Fame recognizes no fewer than 29 Canadian-written entries from 16 renowned Canadian songwriters and CSHF inductees who have been on the cutting edge of popular music.

The oldest song that is honoured in both the CSHF and Grammy Hall of Fame is Shelton Brooks’ jazz standard Some of These Days, recorded by Sophie Tucker in 1911. The actual oldest Canadian-written song in the Grammy Hall of Fame was written in 1905 — the gospel favourite His Eye Is On the Sparrow, with lyrics by Civilla Martin of Nova Scotia, recorded by the inimitable Mahalia Jackson in 1958.

CSHF country songwriters are represented by the Bob Nolan cowboy classics Cool Water and Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Hank Snow’s beloved standard I’m Movin’ On.

Other joint CSHF-Grammy Hall of Fame inductees represent a wide variety of popular music genres, ranging from the Big Band sounds of Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra’s recording of Ruth Lowe’s I’ll Never Smile Again (1940) and Alex Kramer’s Candy, recorded by Big Maybelle (1956); to the classic rock albums of Robbie Robertson and The Band; to the iconic Broadway contributions of Galt McDermott with the “Hair” album (1968) and Aquarius (single, 1969).

Blasts from the past, yes, but the Grammy Hall of Fame holds indisputable proof that Canadian songwriters have played a vital role in shaping the popular music that audiences have cherished over the past century and more.

Written by Betty Nygaard King

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