Ken Ehrlich has his last Grammy telecast Sunday, after 40 splendid years.
Before that, let’s flash back to a key bit. It was “the big one,” Ehrlich wrote, “the one that is generally credited with starting the phrase “Grammy moment.”
That phrase isn’t just hype, you know. It reflects decades of innovative mash-ups, from Elton and Eminem to this year (8-11 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26), with epic numbers built around one song from Lil Nas X and another — ranging from singer Camila Cabell to rapper Common and dancer Misty Copeland (shown here) — built around a song from the “Fame” movie.
But that first one went back to the 1980 Grammys, Ehrlich’s first time as the show’s producer. In “At the Grammys” (2007, Hal Leonard Books), he describes having it follow a dreary talk by the recording academy president:
“We took the house and stage lights down nearly to black, took an uncomfortably long 10 seconds of dead air — and then, from one side of the stage out came Barbra Streisand, and from the other walked Neil Diamond, two of the biggest stars in music.”
Sure, they had each recorded “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” and a clever disc jockey had blended the two. But they had never sung it together — in the studio or onstage. The result, Ehrlich wrote (accurately) was “magical.”
That became typical of Ehrlich’s touch — unexpected combinations that become more than the sum of their parts. But it was atypical in one way: It involved traditional pop stars, the sort that filled the Grammys in the 1970s. “Rock was severely underrepresented,” he wrote.
He would change that. As Bono wrote in the foreword to Ehrlich’s book: “The Grammys invited jazz, country, rock, sould and classical in the same hall. No regard for demographic studies of what would deliver ratings.”
The ratings have followed — and will again Sunday. Some stars will merge on a Lil Nas X hit, others on a song celebrating music education. There will be, I’m betting, some dandy Grammy momnents.