Music-versary: Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie first black artists to win Grammys in 1959

CompleteEllaSongbooksThough the first annual Grammys in 1959 handed out just 28 awards (as compared to the 83 that will be bestowed tonight at the 58th annual edition), ceremonies took place in both Beverly Hills and New York City. The dual celebration tradition carried on for several years.

That first year, all eyes were on Frank Sinatra and his six nominations, but he would surprisingly take home just a single statue for art directing his album Only the Lonely. Black recording artists surprisingly fared better in 1959: Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie each won two Grammys in the Jazz and Pop fields. Basie would go on to win nine Grammys in his career, while Fitzgerald earned 14, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Black artists have since dominated several categories in the Grammy Awards record books. For example, Quincy Jones tops the list of most wins by a producer and has the second most wins by any male artist with 27 awards; Stevie Wonder (22 awards), Jay Z and Kanye West (21 awards each) all sit in the latter list’s top 8. Beyoncé’s 20 wins make her the second top Grammy-earning female, followed by Aretha Franklin (18 awards), Alicia Keys (14 awards), Fitzgerald, Leontyne Price (13 awards), Shirley Caesar (11 awards), Chaka Khan and CeCe Winans (10 awards each).

The Grammys haven’t been praised for its treatment of all genres, though. Most notably, hip-hop struggled to be recognized as a field by the awards show, which finally happened in 1989, but a reluctance to televise it led to a boycott that year by the Grammys’ first-ever rap winners, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince aka Will Smith. Public Enemy would follow suit for similar reasons in 1991. Finally in 1999, Lauryn Hill made history by making the first hip-hop album to earn five Grammys, including the coveted Album of the Year, for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, an event that had to be televised.

Tonight’s show will throw a large spotlight on black music. Big wins are expected for rapper Kendrick Lamar, who leads this year’s nominations with a staggering 11 different awards after popular opinion found him largely being snubbed for losing Best Rap Album to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in 2014, and Canadian R&B star The Weeknd, who has seven nominations; both are also scheduled to perform. LL Cool J is back for the fifth time as host, the late bluesman B.B. King will be tributed and there will be a special award given to Lionel Richie, who was named Person of the Year Sunday night by Grammys nonprofit MusicCares.

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