The Tribe At The Grammys: 2018 Edition
The 2018 Grammy Awards will be presented on Sunday, Jan. 28, at 4:30 p.m., hosted by James Corden. This year is the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, and Andrew Lloyd-Webber will turn 70 this year. Patti Lupone will honor Lloyd-Webber’s music by singing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from Evita.
The 2017 Tony-winner Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen), 24, will then join Lupone on stage and they will honor Bernstein by singing, together, a song from West Side Story.
The vast majority of Grammys are not presented on TV. Here, the verified Jewish nominees in the awards I believe will be presented on TV.
Jack Antonoff, 33, co-wrote and co-produced Melodrama, an album by singer Lorde that is nominated for album of the
year. Antonoff is a rock star in his own right (as a member of the bands Fun and Bleachers) and he’s also known as the former boyfriend of actress/writer Lena Dunham (Girls), 31. The couple recently broke up after being together for five years.
Benjamin Levin (aka Benny Blanco), 29, produced “Issues,” a song of the year nominee. A top producer/songwriter, Levin has already won three Grammys.
Pink (aka Alecia Moore), 38, is nominated for best solo pop performance (“What About Us”). Pink’s mother is Jewish and, for the first time that I know of, she referred to herself this past year as “a Jewish woman,” following the Charlottesville events.
Michael Shuman, 32, is the bass player and sometime-keyboardist and drummer for the band Queens of the Stone Age. The band is nominated for best rock album (Villains). Known as “Mickey Shoes,” Shuman grew up in the Los Angeles area, where he went to Hebrew school. He had a small part as a bar mitzvah boy in The Wedding Singer, a hit Adam Sandler film. Queens began in 1996 and Schuman joined in 2007, replacing Alan Johannes. Johannes left when his wife, Natasha Shneider, another Queens member, became ill with (terminal) cancer. Shneider, her brother and her parents (who were Soviet-era musical stars) were allowed to leave the Soviet Union in 1976. An amazingly multi-talented musician, Natasha Shneider, who passed away in 2008, remains one of the few women in a major hard-rock band.
The band The National is nominated for best alternative music album (Sleep Well Beast). The five-member group includes twin brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner, 41.
Bob Dylan, 76, is nominated for best traditional pop vocal album (Triplicate) and the late Leonard Cohen is nominated for best rock performance (“You Want It Darker”). Cohen is also nominated for best American Roots performance (“Steer Your Way”).
It’s fitting that Cohen and Dylan are paired together, for one last time, at the Grammys. They were contemporaries who had the air of biblical prophets and, of course, they were often called poets who were also songwriters. Cohen began as a poet, and judging by their respective work on the printed page, he probably deserved that title more than Dylan. Nonetheless, Cohen was very gracious when Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature shortly before Cohen’s death in 2016.
Cohen didn’t become “big public” famous until his 1984 song “Hallelujah” became a huge hit following the inclusion of Rufus Wainwright’s version in the 2001 movie Shrek. But Dylan heard Cohen sing the tune in Paris in 1988 and, the next day, told Cohen that he loved it. Reports say they met up every few years and that they truly admired each other’s work and weren’t hesitant to tell each other that.
Finally, Greg Kurstin, 48, is nominated for an award he won in 2017: producer of the year, non-classical. Last year he won mostly for his work producing Adele; this year, it is mostly for his work producing Beck, the Foo Fighters and Sia. He is also nominated for producing the best song for a visual media — “Never Give Up” from the Lion soundtrack (and performed by Sia).
The following is a list of Jews nominated for Grammys that probably won’t be given on TV. It isn’t a complete list, but it covers some biggies and is also meant to highlight a few Jews in musical genres not normally associated with Jewish folks.
Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry Before Seinfeld), 63, and Sarah Silverman (A Speck of Dust), 47, are nominated for best comedy album. All three albums nominated for best musical theater album have Jewish nominees — Come from Away, composed by David Hein, 35ish, and Irene Sankoff, 35ish; Dear Evan Hansen, composed by Benj Pasek, 32, and Justin Paul, and featuring the voices of Ben Platt and Rachel Bay Jones, 48; and Hello, Dolly! composed by Jerry Herman, 86, and featuring the voice of Bette Midler, 72.
Similarly, all the songs nominated for best song written for a visual media include Jewish nominees: “City of Stars” from La La Land was composed by Justin Hurwitz, 32, Pasek and Paul; “I Don’t Want to Live Forever” from Fifty Shades Darker was co-produced by Jack Antonoff; “Stand up for Something” from Marshall was written by Diane
Warren, 61; and, as noted above, “Never Give Up,” produced by Greg Kurstin.
Jorge Drexler, 53, is nominated for best Latin rock, urban or alternative album (Salvavidas de Hielo). Drexler became the first Uruguayan to win an Oscar when he won the best song Oscar in 2004. A medical doctor, he has been Grammy-nominated four times before. Anat Cohen, 38, a clarinetist, saxophone player and bandleader is nominated for best Latin jazz album (The Music of Moacir Santos) and for best world music album (Rosa Dos Ventos). Born and raised in Tel Aviv, she resides in New York.
Noam Pikelny, 36, is nominated for best bluegrass album (Universal Favorite). Considered one of the best living banjo players, he has won many major bluegrass awards, including the Steve Martin Prize (he played “Dueling Banjos” with Martin on David Letterman’s show) and player of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association (2010). He’s frequently asked how he, a Jewish kid from Skokie, Ill., who went to the modern Orthodox Ida Crown Jewish Academy, got into bluegrass. He rightly points out that Jews, for whatever reason, have had an affinity for bluegrass and there are/were many prominent Jews in the genre (including Eric Weissberg, 78, who wrote “Dueling Banjos”).
Fred Hersch, 62, a pianist, is nominated for best improvised jazz solo (“Whisper Not”). He’s been Grammy-nominated six times before and the Jazz Journalists Association named him “pianist of the year” in 2011. He was diagnosed HIV positive in the 1980s, and had a health crisis in 2008 that put him in a two-month coma and rendered him unable to play for several years. He wrote about his life and that crisis in his 2017 memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly. (Google him for a great interview with Terry Gross of NPR.)
Finally, there’s a hometown nominee. Leonard Slatkin, 73, music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, is nominated for conducting the Orchestra’s performance of Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3; Three Latin American Sketches. Slatkin comes from a famously musical family. His father, Felix, was the violinist, conductor and founder of the Hollywood String Quartet, and his mother, Eleanor Aller, was the cellist with the quartet. He competes in this category with Michael Tilson-Thomas, 73, who conducted the San Francisco Symphony’s recording of “Images; Jeux & La Plus Que Lente” by Debussy. Like Slatkin, Tilson-Thomas comes from a famous Jewish family: he’s the grandson of Boris and Bessie Thomashefky, famous stars of the Yiddish theater.