2022 Grammys: Heartfelt tributes to the power of music

Photo courtesy of Ted Jenson of Recording Academy, Wikipedia.

The 64th Annual Grammy Awards took place on the evening of April 3, celebrating the first full-scale in-person award ceremony since January 2020. The night was filled with all the Grammy classics: high-end red carpet looks, variety of intricate performances and predictable wins. 

However, this year was rather emotional and highly aware of struggles and loss. Many tributes were weaved within performances, giving attention to those absent from the ceremony who have shaped the music industry, as well as events of international loss. 

During Billie Eilish’s performance of “Happier Than Ever,” the 20-year-old singer wore a t-shirt with Foo Fighters’ drummer Taylor Hawkins on it. The beloved rockstar tragically passed a little over a week before the Grammys.

Hawkins also received a formal tribute in a short Foo Fighters clip, which filled in for their anticipated performance. The band, however, still won three Grammys. The short clip transitioned into the In Memoriam performance, highlighting all of the popular music contributors who passed this year. 

Starring Ben Platt, Rachel Zegler,  Leslie Odom Jr. and Cynthia Erivo, the Broadway quartet sang a medley of songs by notable theater and music composer Stephen Sondheim, who passed away in late November. The performance ended with Sondheim's photo displayed on the screen.

Another sentimental standout performance was by John Legend. Though not nominated for any awards, he debuted his latest single, “Free,” in a blue and yellow performance honoring Ukraine, which followed a pre-recorded message from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

"The war. What is more opposite of music? The silence of ruined cities and killed people,” Zelenskyy said. “Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded in hospitals. Even to those who can’t hear them.” 

Legend was joined by three Ukrainian artists: singer Mika Newtown, bandura player Siuzanna Iglidan and poet Lyuba Yakimchuk, who had fled Ukraine only days ago. Photographs of real civilians presently struggling in Ukraine played on the screen behind the performers and blue lights.

“But the music will break through anyway,” Zelenskyy said. “We defend our freedom. To live. To love. To sound.”

In an early performance by Lady Gaga, her 93-year-old counterpart Tony Bennett spoke in a pre-recorded video introducing Gaga as she performed two songs from the duo’s latest jazz cover album “Love For Sale.” Bennett sadly is not in well-enough shape to continue performing live, so Gaga’s solo take was in tribute to Bennett and his talent. The duo won the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, and deservingly so.

With another tribute to jazz, American roots and the Black community, singer and musician Jon Batiste took home his very first Grammy — and four more. 

The Louisiana native jazz and R&B musician and composer was this year’s most nominated artist with eleven nominations. He took home his first five Grammys for Album of the Year, Best Music Video, Best American Roots Performance, Best American Roots Song and Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for his work on Pixar’s “Soul.”

Batiste performed his bright anthem “Freedom” during the show, and it was easily the most energetic and lively performance of the night. The set design, costumes and dancing looks like it’s straight out of a Pixar film in the best way possible, as it was filled with funky shapes, eccentric hairdos, neon colors and fresh dance moves. 

He combines a tribute to funk and classic jazz with modern pop and R&B in a compelling way that encourages multigenerational audiences to step up and move their bodies in freedom with him. 

Batiste’s presence to the music scene definitely was a quiet one before Sunday night, but it is clear now that he is at the forefront of musical excellence. He is the bandleader for Stephen Colbert’s band, and his solo music emphasizes the strength and power of music and culture. 

"I believe this to my core, there is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor," he said during his acceptance speech for Album of the Year. "The creative arts are subjective and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most.”

If the 64th Annual Grammys did anything right, it reminded us that even in times of grief and downfall, music will always be here, and it can be a powerful coping tool. When all else fails, there is comfort in music. 

“It's like a song or an album is made,” Batiste continued. “And it's almost like it has a radar to find the person when they need it the most."