MUSIC MONDAY: “Grammys Got Soul” – Every Best R&B Song Winner Playlist (LISTEN)

by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)

At yesterday’s Grammy Awards, power group Silk Sonic (featuring Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars) and its signature song “Leave The Door Open” had a huge night, winning in both major categories for singles — Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

FYI, Silk Sonic was not nominated for Album of the Year — that Grammy went to Jon Batiste for We Are.

Black artists weren’t always so frequently celebrated in the key main categories.  As recently as 2015, there were no songs performed by Black artists in the Song of the Year or Record of the Year categories.  And wins for Black artists in the main categories have been infrequent through many of the past 6 decades+ of the Awards.

The Grammys, of course, have honored Black artists in the R&B and Hip Hop categories.  And they did it with Silk Sonic and “Leave The Door Open” last night too, as it tied with Jazmine Sullivan for Best R&B Performance and won in one more singles category that wasn’t televised — Best R&B Song.

In today’s #MusicMonday playlist, Grammys’ Got Soul: All the Grammy R&B Song Winners,” we’re celebrating all those great tunes in the longest consistently running R&B Grammy category.

It’s a favorite sport of music fans to second guess whether  the Grammys got it right or not, but, as you’ll hear in today’s list, almost all the winners have ended up being — like “Leave The Door Open” is already — truly classic jams.

If you’ve been watching the Grammys for years, you know by now that the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gives awards in Performance and Record categories (which go to the artists) and in the Song category (going to the songwriters – but not the artist, unless they also wrote the song).

In the twists and turns of the Grammy Awards, a single R&B Performance of the Year honor has actually not been given out consistently through the years.

Although it was awarded up through most of the ’60s (completely ignoring Motown and Stax, by the way, in favor of Ray Charles), it was then discontinued in favor of separate performance categories for Male R&B Performance, Female R&B Performance and Duo or Group R&B Performance – three categories that awarded artists up until 2011, when they were combined once again into a collective R&B Performance of the Year Award.

So R&B Song of the Year essentially became a unique declaration of the Grammys’ top choice in R&B music, starting in 1969 with Otis Redding‘s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” and continuing to today.

It’s clear that the Grammys favored some trends and artists more than others.  After ignoring Motown in the 1960s, Grammy jumped into Motown fandom in the 1970s with Stevie Wonder and The Temptations – but in the process managed to almost completely ignore Philly Soul.

The Academy began to embrace Disco, but while awarding a Donna Summer song one year, the Grammy voters managed to relegate all the biggest Nile Rodgers & Bernard Edwards compositions to runner-up status through the years, yet somehow ended up awarding the R&B Song of the Year in 1978 to Leo Sayer‘s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” over The Commodores’ “Easy” and “Brick House,” Thelma Houston‘s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and The Emotions’ “Best of My Love.”

By the 1980s, the Grammys favored slick adult soul in the vein of Luther Vandross, Stephanie Mills, Earth, Wind & Fire’s “After the Love Has Gone” and George Benson over more funky fare.

In fact, Prince won the R&B Song Grammy for penning “I Feel For You” when it was a hit for Chaka Khan. But his first R&B Song of the Year nomination for one of his own recordings – for “Kiss” in 1987 – was defeated by Anita Baker‘s breakthrough “Sweet Love.”

The 1990s brought multiple wins for Babyface compositions for Boyz II Men and Whitney Houston, a win for Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis for their work with Janet Jackson, and yes, a win for R. Kelly.

And, if you wanted to win a R&B Song Grammy in the 2000s, you should have been writing songs for female performers, because the decade’s honorees were dominated by Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé tunes.

In the past decade, as hip hop has continued to dominate the story of Black artists crossing over to the mainstream, R&B crossover success on the charts has declined, along with the reach of R&B radio.

The Grammys have begun awarding more rootsy and alternative R&B fare.  While the vast majority of all the winning songs for decades had been major R&B and often major pop hits, multiple winners in the past decade have not even hit the Top 10 on Billboard R&B charts, including songs from Robert Glasper, P.J. Morton, D’Angelo and John Legend with the Roots.

Grammy finally seems to be putting musical achievement over sales figures. We hope you’ll enjoy this chronological journey through R&B history.