by Marcus K. Dowling
On Sunday evening, the Recording Academy will come together for the 63rd time to honor recording, production, and executive excellence in the music industry. Country music — if counting its Appalachian folk roots — is nearly twice as old as the event. Thus, its Grammy moments make music, in general, feel timeless. From Kenny Rogers to Kacey Musgraves, Tammy Wynette to Taylor Swift, and innumerable others, when country music takes the stage on music’s biggest night, magic undoubtedly ensues.
Here are five fantastic moments that highlight country’s brilliance under the Recording Academy’s brightest lights.
1. Kenny Rogers and Donna Summer Perform A Medley (1980)
For “The Gambler,” 1979 was a year that saw him close out a run of five consecutive number-one country singles (and surging towards number one as a pop star, too), including the aforementioned ode to knowing when to “hold ’em” and “fold ’em.” “Coward of the County” was just two months old as his latest release on the night of the 1980 Grammy Awards. As for Donna Summer, disco’s undisputed queen had a similar run to Rogers on Billboard’s dance and pop charts.
Though seemingly dissimilar, the soul influences in Rogers and Summer’s voices connect brilliantly. Hearing the country icon dig into the pocket of Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited,” as well as mimicking Michael McDonald’s legendary baritone on the Doobie Brothers’ “What A Fool Believes” must be heard to be appreciated.
2. Miley Cyrus, Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, and Katy Perry Honor Dolly Parton (2019)
Dolly Parton’s fifth decade as a mainstream recording artist was honored by the Recording Academy in 2019. The idea that Parton represents archetypal superstardom that supersedes country music is showcased here. From heartfelt country to rock, mainstream pop, and the progressive slurry of sounds country continues to redefine; it’s all here. For as much love as Parton receives, it’s her legacy that resounds louder and deeper than anything else.
3. Shania Twain Performs “Man, I Feel Like A Woman” (2000)
Music’s biggest stage provides a perfect moment to ascend to another level of superstardom. This was the case at the turn of the 21st century when Shania Twain performed her quintuple-platinum selling single “Man, I Feel Like A Woman at the 42nd Grammy Awards. If looking to see what polished pop-country poise without rhinestones and folksy demeanor looks like, it’s here. A generation of country stars was ultimately birthed by the aesthetic this performance sets. It’s worth a watch.
4. Carrie Underwood Performs “Before He Cheats” (2008)
Big budget, cinematic arena presentations collide with a nearly diamond-selling hit single sang by quite possibly the biggest TV and pop-country star of the 2000s. If you’re looking for an approximation of what “Vegas Showroom Country” would eventually become, this “STOMP”-inspired performance by Carrie Underwood is both ostentatious and well-delivered.
5. Tanya Tucker (accompanied by Brandi Carlile) Performs “Bring Me My Flowers Now” (2020)
After being nominated ten times over five tumultuous decades, Tanya Tucker finally achieved not one but two Grammy victories in 2020. Here, with the accompaniment of the song’s writer — the accomplished Brandi Carlile — Tucker wows the Grammy audience with a performance of Best Country Song winner “Bring Me My Flowers Now.” If looking for a better representation of the timelessness of the premier songwriting and gripping performances that country music has added to the Recording Academy’s celebrated night, it’s right here.