Review: ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday,’ starring Andra Day

February 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Andra Day in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” (Photo by Takashi Seida/Hulu)

“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”

Directed by Lee Daniels

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the U.S., primarily from 1947 to 1959, the dramatic film “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” features a predominantly African American cast (with some white people) who are connected in some way to legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday, who is the central character in the movie.

Culture Clash: Holiday’s drug addiction and her controversial civil rights song “Strange Fruit” made her a target of the FBI, which plotted to ruin her life.

Culture Audience: “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a melodramatic interpretation of Holiday’s life and don’t mind if some parts of the movie are inaccurate.

Trevante Rhodes and Garrett Hedlund in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” (Photo byTakashi Seida/Hulu)

If people watched the 1972 movie “Lady Sings the Blues” and the 2021 movie “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” they would wonder if Billie Holiday led different lives in alternate universes. Both movies are about Holiday, but they are very different from each other. “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” (directed by Lee Daniels) is the more sexually explicit, more realistic version of her life, compared to director Sidney J. Furie’s “Lady Sings the Blues” (starring Diana Ross as Holiday), which presented Holiday’s life as more of a romantic fantasy that was hindered by drug addiction. However, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” even with the benefit of a stunning performance by Andra Day and gorgeous costumes, misses the mark with an uneven tone that can’t decide if it wants to be a politically driven drama, a campy drug-addict saga or a sappy romance that was fabricated for the movie.

“Lady Sings the Blues” (written by Suzanne de Passe, Chris Clark and Terence McCloy) is more of a “rags to riches” story,” since it shows Holiday’s teen years and up to the height of her fame, but before she reached middle-age and died at the age of 44 in 1959. “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”(written by Suzan-Lori Parks) is more of a “riches to downfall” story, since the movie shows Holiday (portrayed by Day) as a New York City-based diva already at the height of her fame and chronicles her continued slide into self-destruction until she was on her deathbed.

“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” has a brief flashback to Holiday’s childhood in Baltimore that shows her at 10 years old, living in a brothel and being told, against her will, that she will eventually have to service the clients. In real life, Holiday says she became a prostitute when she was 13. In “Lady Sings the Blues,” Holiday’s single mother Sadie is a live-in maid to a white family and let her daughter (whose birth name was Eleanora Fagan) spend time in the brothel that was run by a madam. However, in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” there is no such context to explain why the future Billie Holiday was living in a brothel as a child.

“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” aims to be a much more socially conscious movie than “Lady Sings the Blues” because it keeps hammering the point that the FBI conspired to ruin Holiday’s life, and her influential civil rights song “Strange Fruit” was the trigger. (The “Lady Sings the Blues” movie avoided pointing fingers at the FBI for Holiday’s downfall.) “Strange Fruit” (written by Abel Meeropol under the alias Lewis Allan) was released in 1939. It’s a poetically brutal commentary on racial injustice, particularly in describing the lynching of black people in the South.

“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” has an unnecessary narrative device that opens the movie in New York City in 1957, when Holiday is giving an audio interview to Reginald Lord Devine (played by Leslie Jordan), a flamboyant journalist who seems to have been written as the epitome of a white man from the South who is willfully ignorant about racial inequality. He drawls to Holiday: “Tell me, tell me, what’s it like to be a colored woman?”

This interview scenario then leads to flashbacks of Holiday’s life, primarily from 1947 to 1954, before culminating with her death in 1959. However, the writing, direction and editing for this movie are so choppy that the flashbacks are interrupted by going back to showing the annoying Devine asking silly questions. The movie would’ve been better off without this useless plot device of Holiday looking exasperated while she doing an interview that she clearly doesn’t want to do.

When Devine asks Holiday about “Strange Fruit” and why she creates problems for herself by singing it, she replies: “Ever seen a lynching? It’s about human rights. The government forgets that sometimes. They just want me to shut up and sing ‘All of Me.'”

The movie has repetitive scenes of Holiday arguing with people (such as a manager or nightclub owner) over wanting to sing “Strange Fruit,” but she’s often overruled. And when she does sing the song on stage at the Earle Theatre in Philadelphia in 1947, her performance is cut short and she’s literally carried off stage while she’s fighting the man who’s forcing her to leave. It’s a very slapstick-type of scene that looks too over-acted.

In “Lady Sings the Blues,” drug addiction was the villain. In “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” the FBI is an additional villain, specifically the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics chief Harry Anslinger (played by Garrett Hedlund), who’s portrayed as ruthless, ambitious and very racist. (In case there’s any doubt that he’s racist, he uses the “n” word.)

In a 1947 government meeting in Washington, D.C., Anslinger says in some very corny dialogue: “Drugs and [a racial slur for black people] are a contamination to our great American civilization. Jazz music is the devil’s work. That’s why this Holiday has to be stopped.” Anslinger is such a stereotypical villain in the movie, that if his moustache had been long enough, he would’ve twirled it.

In this FBI meeting is attorney Roy Cohn (played by Damian Joseph Quinn), who would later become known as the right-hand man of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (played by Randy Davison) and their witch hunt against Communists. Much later in his life, Cohn was a “fixer” for many rich and famous clients, including Donald Trump. “Strange Fruit” is brought up in the meeting as a song that could incite riots, but Cohn says that trying to bust Holiday for inciting a riot would be a misdemeanor crime at worst. Cohn suggests to Anslinger that since Holiday is a well-known drug addict, it would be better to have her arrested for drugs.

And that’s why an African American FBI agent is recruited to go undercover and help the FBI arrest Holiday. His name is Jimmy Fletcher (played by Trevante Rhodes), who ends up falling deeply in love with Holiday. In fact, their romance (which is completely exaggerated for the movie) becomes such a big part of the plot that it looks very fake, especially when Fletcher ends up shooting heroin with Holiday and having shared hallucinations with her. Viewers will be rolling their eyes at this nonsense more than a junkie who’s high on drugs.

Another ridiculous thing about the movie is how in almost every performance of Holiday’s that’s shown, Fletcher and usually Anslinger are also in the audience, as if they have nothing better to do with their time than stalk her. Fletcher is portrayed as someone who’s woefully inept at being undercover. He’s also ordered to follow her on tour, but it isn’t long before Fletcher doesn’t even try to be professional, and he’s partying with Holiday and her entourage like a pathetic hanger-on.

Holiday’s bisexuality, which she was open about in real life, is briefly hinted at in scenes with Holiday and actress Tallulah Bankhead (played by Natasha Lyonne), who is only identified in the movie as a “close friend.” The well-known affair that these two women had in real life is toned down for the movie. When Anslinger interrogates Bankhead and asks her point-blank if the stories are true that she and Holiday are lovers, she doesn’t really answer the question. When journalist Devine mentions Bankhead in his awkward interview that keeps disrupting the movie’s already ragged flow, Holiday gets defensive and sidesteps the question.

As for the other lovers in Holiday’s life, the ones portrayed in the movie are two who were also her managers: John Levy (played by Tone Bell) and Louis McKay (played by Rob Morgan), who would become her second husband in 1957. (In real life, Levy was white, so the movie did a racial swap with this character.) And briefly depicted is Holiday’s first husband James Monroe (played by Erik LaRay Harvey), a pimp who became a trombonist in her band.

Monroe, Levy and McKay are all portrayed as selfish, abusive leeches, which many people who were close to Holiday say was how these three men were like in real life. It’s more realistic than how McKay (played by Billy Dee Williams) was depicted in “Lady Sings the Blues,” as her only steady lover and as a caring man who never abused her and never took advantage of her. To its credit, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” doesn’t try to make it look like Holiday’s love life was that simple.

In fact, all of the men in Holiday’s life are depicted as using her in some way. Fletcher, who’s portrayed as the only “good man” in her love life, started out as using Holiday to further his career with the FBI. Her closest “friends” are on her payroll, including her saxophonist Lester Young (played by Tyler James Williams), who’s credited in real life with giving her the nickname Lady Day, and her trumpet player/drug dealer Joe Guy (played by Melvin Gregg). She also has two sassy personal assistants named Roslyn (played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and Miss Freddy (played by Miss Lawrence), who are the “court jesters” of this movie, since they provide most of the comic relief.

There’s a comedic scene that doesn’t work very well where Roslyn and Miss Freddy are invited to an elaborate funeral because Holiday has told them there’s been a death in her family. The death is shown to be serious enough that Holiday cancelled one of her shows. Roslyn and Miss Freddy go to the funeral, only to find out that it’s for Holiday’s dead Chihuahua. It’s definitely something that was fabricated for the movie, if only for the fact that planning this type of funeral would be hard to keep a secret from a celebrity’s personal assistants.

Holiday’s drug arrest in Philadelphia in 1947, as well as her subsequent imprisonment for one year, are covered in a rushed series of montages. It’s followed by a standout scene of her 1948 sold-out comeback performance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. It was a breakthrough performance for a jazz artist at Carnegie Hall, which at the time was a venue for classical and opera music.

The FBI’s targeting of Holiday is unquestionably portrayed as racist harassment in this movie. “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” shows other ways that Holiday was discriminated against because of her race. These scenes show how, even with her star status, Holiday could not escape from the systemic racism that she encountered in her everyday life.

There’s a scene where Holiday and Bankhead go to Bankhead’s apartment building, but the African American elevator attendant (played by Furly Mac) refuses to let Holiday use the lobby’s elevator because it’s the building’s policy that black people have to use the service elevator in the back. Even though Bankhead offers to take the service elevator with her, Holiday throws a fit and leaves the building in a huff, while the pain of this discrimination is on her face as she stands by herself outside. In another scene, Holiday is scheduled to perform at a major live radio broadcast, only to find out before she’s ready to take the stage that she’s been replaced by a white female singer because of the “Strange Fruit” controversy.

However, the movie falls off the rails around the time Holiday was arrested for drug possession in San Francisco in 1949. The way that the trial is depicted is fairly absurd, and it’s where the movie starts to drown in the schmaltz of Holiday and Fletcher’s romance that was contrived for the movie. Fletcher is depicted as willing to ruin his career, just to be with Holiday, when that didn’t happen in real life. Fun fact though: Fletcher’s colleague Agent Sam Williams is played by Evan Ross, who is one of Diana Ross’ sons.

“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” is based on Johann Hari’s 2015 non-fiction book “Chasing the Scream,” which details the impact of America’s “war on drugs” and how people of color have been singled out more than white people as targets for drug arrests. Holiday’s troubles with the law are depicted as a precursor to the “war on drugs” that officially began when the Drug Enforcement Administration was formed in 1973 under then-U.S. president Richard Nixon.

However, this serious message of the film is cheapened by some dumb comedic scenes, dreadful dialogue and the unconvincing love affair between Holiday and Fletcher, who starts to romance her even more even after she’s found out that he works for the FBI. By all accounts in real life, Holiday preferred her men to be “bad boys” with shady reputations. Any sexual involvement with Fletcher would not have blossomed into the type of relationship where they’re making goo-goo eyes at each other while on a rowboat (as shown in one of the movie’s scenes), and he openly becomes her “tour boyfriend” while he’s on duty with the FBI.

Paramount Pictures was originally going to release “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” and it’s easy to see why the studio passed on it. The movie needed a massive rewrite and more cohesive direction, so that it would be more of an immersive experience instead of a series of scattershot, uneven scenes that sometimes have awkward transitions. That doesn’t mean the film is a complete disaster, but it should have been much better, considering all the talented people involved.

The high points of “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” are the electrifying performances on stage. Day (who’s a fantastic singer) does all of her own vocals in the movie. Some of the songs heard in the movie are “Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness,” “God Bless the Child,” “Lover Man,” “I Cried for You,” “Them There Eyes,” “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer,” “All of Me” and “Lady Sings the Blues.” And there’s a harrowing, impactful sequence of Holiday witnessing the aftermath of a lynching, which leads to her centerpiece performance of “Strange Fruit.”

Day brings a raspy, world-weary yet edgy quality to her overall performance as Holiday that is more authentic than Diana Ross’ interpretation of Holiday as an emotionally wounded waif in “Lady Sings the Blues.” (Ross got an Oscar nomination out of it.) The costume design and production design are well-done in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” However, all of it is not enough to overcome all the tonal misfires in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” which won’t stand as the definitive Billie Holiday movie. For a more accurate and better movie about Holiday’s life, watch the documentary “Billie” instead.

Hulu will premiere “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” on February 26, 2021.

2019 Grammy Awards: Lady Gaga, Travis Scott, Dua Lipa, tributes to Aretha Franklin and Dolly Parton added to lineup

February 6, 2019

by Carla Hay

Grammy Awards

Lady Gaga, Travis Scott, Dua Lipa, St. Vincent, Chloe x Halle and tributes to Aretha Franklin and Dolly Parton have been added to the performing lineup at the 61st Grammy Awards, which will take place at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on February 10, 2019. As previously announced, Alicia Keys is hosting the show, which will have its U.S. telecast on CBS.

Previously announced artists include Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Dan + Shay, Post Malone, Shawn Mendes, Janelle Monáe, Kacey Musgraves, Brandi Carlile, Miley Cyrus, H.E.R., Red Hot Chili Peppers and Diana Ross.

[February 7, 2019 UPDATE: The following entertainers will be presenters at the 61st Grammy Awards: Kelsea Ballerini, Leon Bridges, Luke Combs, Charlie Wilson, Alessia Cara, Julian Edelman, Eve, John Mayer, Bob Newhart, Smokey Robinson, Swizz Beatz, Meghan Trainor, Kane Brown, BTS, Cedric The Entertainer, Nina Dobrev, Anna Kendrick, Jada Pinkett Smith and Wilmer Valderrama.]

Lady Gaga will perform “Shallow” (from the 2018 “A Star is Born” movie soundtrack) with Mark Ronson, who wrote “Shallow” with Lady Gaga, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt. “Shallow” is nominated for four Grammys, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year. The Grammy Awards take place on the same night as the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, where Lady Gaga is nominated for Best Actress and Best  Music for “A Star Is Born.” By choosing to attend the Grammys instead, it’s clear that Lady Gaga is going to the ceremony where she thinks she has the better chance of winning more awards.

Meanwhile, on-stage collaborations at the 2019 Grammys have been announced: Cabello will be joined by J Balvin, Young Thug, Ricky Martin and Arturo Sandoval for her performance. Female singers Dua Lipa and St. Vincent will team up for their Grammy performance.

One artist who won’t be performing at the Grammys this year is Ariana Grande, who is nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album (“Sweetener”) and Best Pop Solo Performance (“God Is a Woman”). According to Variety, Grande canceled her performance and will not be attending the show because of a dispute over which songs she could sing at the Grammys. She had been set to do a medley of two songs, and reportedly had to fight the show’s producers to perform her current single “7 Rings,” but ultimately quit when the producers would not allow her to choose the second song.

The 61st Grammy Awards show is produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures for the Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer, Ben Winston is executive producer, Louis J. Horvitz is director, Chantel Sausedo is the producer, and David Wild and Ehrlich are the writers.

In 2018, the Recording Academy received an enormous amount of backlash for having a male-dominated Grammy ceremony, which led to the social-media hashtag #GrammysSoMale. That year, the overwhelming number of Grammy nominees and winners were male, and the only artist with an Album of the Year nomination who was not invited to perform solo on the show was female singer Lorde. (Lorde attended the ceremony but did not perform.) In 2019, the Recording Academy has taken big steps to have more women on the Grammys stage. Keys is one of the few women who have hosted the Grammy ceremony. And three of the biggest tributes at the 2019 Grammys will be to women, while prominent on-stage collaborations will feature women.

Diva Tributes

Aretha Franklin at the Elton John AIDS Foundation Fall Gala at Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City on November 7, 2017. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Franklin, who died in of pancreatic cancer in August 2018, will have a special tribute at the Grammy Awards with performances by Yolanda Adams, Fantasia and Andra Day. A separate all-star tribute to Franklin (“Aretha! A Grammy Celebration for the Queen of Soul”) will take place on January 13 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Tyler Perry is hosting that separate tribute concert, which will include performances by Adams, Shirley Caesar, Alessia Cara, Kelly Clarkson, Common, Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Keys, John Legend, Patti LaBelle, BeBe Winans, Carlile, Chloe x Halle, H.E.R., Monáe and SZA. CBS will televise the concert on March 10, 2019.

Parton, who is MusiCares’ 2019 Person of the Year, will perform a song from the “Dumplin'” movie soundtrack. As part of the Grammy Awards tribute, Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Musgraves and Perry will perform some of Parton’s songs. This will be the second tribute to Parton in two days. On February 8, Parton’s MusiCares Person of the Year concert (which is not televised) will take place at the Los Angeles Convention Center, with performances by Parton, Cyrus, Perry, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Leon Bridges, Lauren Daigle, Norah Jones, Mendes, Pink, Ronson, Chris Stapleton, Vince Gill, Don Henley, Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Linda Perry and Mavis Staples.

As previously reported, Ross is celebrating her 75th birthday this year with a “Diamond Diana” performance at the Grammys. The performance is expected to be a medley of some of her hit songs. Ross will also be a performer at “Motown 60: A Grammy Celebration,” an all-star concert for Motown’s 60th anniversary that will be filmed for CBS at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on January 12, 2019. Other “Motown 60” performers include Smokey Robinson, Boyz II Men, Chloe x Halle, Ciara, Lamont Dozier, Fantasia, Brian & Eddie Holland, Thelma Houston, Tori Kelly, John Legend, Little Big Town, Ne-Yo, Pentatonix, Martha Reeves, Valerie Simpson, Mickey Stevenson, Meghan Trainor and Stevie Wonder.  Cedric the Entertainer is hosting the show, which CBS will premiere on April 21.

Performers Nominated for Grammys This Year

It’s a tradition for most of the artists performing at a Grammy Awards ceremony are those who are nominated for Grammys that year. Most of the aforementioned artists have Grammy nominations in 2019. Cabello, Carlile and Mendes will be performing at the Grammy Awards for the first time.

Balvin is up for Record Of The Year for “I Like It,” his collaboration with Cardi B and Bad Bunny.

Cabello’s Grammy nominations this year are for Best Pop Solo Performance for “Havana [Live]” and Best Pop Vocal Album for her solo debut album, “Camila.” Cabello is a former member of Fifth Harmony.

Cardi B has five Grammy nominations this year. Her debut album, “Invasion of Privacy,” is up for Album of the Year and Best Rap Album; “Girls Like You,” her her hit collaboration with Maroon 5, is nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance; her song “I Like It” is one of the contenders for Record of the Year; and her song “Be Careful” is up for Best Rap Performance.

Carlile is nominated for six Grammys: Her song “The Joke” is up for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song, while her album “By the Way, I Forgive You” is a contender for Album of the Year and Best Americana Album.

Chloe x Halle are nominated for Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Album (for “The Kids Are Alright”).

Dan + Shay’s “Tequila” is nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.

H.E.R. is one of the nominees for Best New Artist, while her self-titled album is up for Album of the Year and Best R&B Album. She also nominated for Best R&B Performance (for “Best Part”) and Best R&B Song (for “Focus”).

Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” is nominated for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Song Written for Visual Media, while her song “Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’?)” is nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance.

Lipa is nominated for Best Dance Recording (for “Electricity”) and Best New Artist.

Malone has four Grammy nominations: Album of the Year (for “Beerbongs & Bentleys“); his “Better Now” single is up for Best Pop Solo Performance; and his “Rockstar” collaboration with 21 Savage is nominated for Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance.

Mendes’ self titled album is nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album, while his single “In My Blood” is a contender for Song of the Year.

Monáe has two Grammy nominations this year: “Dirty Computer” is up for Album of the Year, while she has a Best Music Video nod for “PYNK.”

Morris is nominated for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance (for “The Middle,” her collaboration with Zedd and Grey); Best Country Solo Performance (for “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”); and Best Country Duo/Group Performance and Best Country Song (for “Dear Hate,” featuring Vince Gill).

Musgraves received four Grammy nominations this year: “Golden Hour” is up for Album of the Year and Best Country Album; “Butterflies” is nominated for Best Country Solo Performance; and “Space Cowboy” is a contender for Best Country Song.

Ronson has three nominations: Best Dance Recording (for “Electricity,” Dua Lipa’s collaboration with Silk City’s Ronson and Diplo) while “Shallow” is up for Song of the Year and Best Song Written For Visual Media.

Scott is up for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “Sicko Mode,” as well as Best Rap Album for “Astroworld.”

St. Vincent is nominated for Best Rock Song (for “Masseduction”) and Best Alternative Music Album (for “Masseduction”).

Young Thug is nominated for Song of the Year for “This Is America,” which he co-wrote with Donald Glover (also known as Childish Gambino) and Ludwig Göransson.

Recording Academy names diversity task force members, including Sheryl Crow, Common, Cam, Andra Day, Jimmy Jam

May 9, 2018

The following is a press release from the Recording Academy:

Tina Tchen, Chair of the Recording Academy™’s newly formed task force on diversity and inclusion, announced the names of the 16 members joining her in examining barriers and biases affecting women and other underrepresented voices in the music industry and, specifically, the Recording Academy.

Since her appointment, Tchen has spent weeks meeting with and listening to constituents across the music community, using that feedback to assemble a task force that is balanced in perspectives and interests to ensure that the group is independent and focused on making progress in the industry. All members will volunteer their time and expertise, and none are employed by the Recording Academy or hold any position on its Board. The task force includes the following music creators, executives, academic scholars, and thought leaders in gender equality and diversity:

  • Stephanie Alexa, vice president of finance and licensing administration, ATO Records
  • Michele Anthony, executive vice president and executive management board member, Universal Music Group
  • Cam, GRAMMY®-nominated artist
  • Common, GRAMMY-winning artist
  • Sheryl Crow, GRAMMY-winning artist
  • Andra Day, GRAMMY-nominated artist
  • Giselle Fernandez, award-winning television journalist
  • Jimmy Jam, GRAMMY-winning artist
  • Beth Laird, CEO and co-owner, Creative Nation
  • Debra Lee, chairman and CEO, BET Networks
  • Rebeca Leon, co-founder and CEO, Lionfish Entertainment
  • Elizabeth Matthews, CEO, ASCAP
  • Dr. Stacy L. Smith, founder and director, USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative
  • Ty Stiklorius, founder and CEO, Friends At Work
  • Julie Swidler, executive vice president of business affairs and general counsel, Sony Music
  • Dean Wilson, CEO, SEVEN20

“I’m honored to lead such an esteemed group of visionaries who possess the experience and passion needed to drive real change in building a more inclusive and equitable music community,” said Tchen. “This is an important first step made possible by the Recording Academy’s leadership, which recognizes the benefit of examining these issues with fresh eyes.”

The task force is set to meet shortly to begin its work with a review of Recording Academy operations and policies across the areas of corporate governance, hiring and promotion, membership, awards, and the GRAMMY Awards® telecast. As Chair, Tchen will develop an operational roadmap for the task force and update the Recording Academy on the group’s progress on an ongoing basis throughout the year.​

“This is an extremely important initiative for us,” said John Poppo, Chair of the Recording Academy Board of Trustees. “The Board takes seriously any role the Recording Academy can play in serving our music community, and certainly one that could facilitate increased diversity and inclusion. We are inspired by the prospect of what this task force might accomplish, and we’re grateful to Tina and the group’s esteemed members for graciously agreeing to partner with us in this effort.”

As one of its first orders of business, the task force has established a feedback tool to collect public input and suggestions for the group’s review and consideration. Anyone interested in providing suggestions for the task force can do so by visiting www.grammy.com/taskforcefeedback.

“The Recording Academy prides itself on being a thoughtful organization, and is committed to being responsive to those we represent in the creative community,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy. “Today, there’s an opportunity for us to effect historic change in attitudes and practices within our industry. We embrace that opportunity in full. With a leader like Tina at the helm and a group of such high caliber, this task force is primed to have a meaningful impact on building a music community that is inclusive, welcoming, and open to all.”

Bios and headshots for task force members can be found at https://grammy.box.com/v/recordingacademytaskforceinfo.

ABOUT THE RECORDING ACADEMY

The Recording Academy represents the voices of performers, songwriters, producers, engineers, and all music professionals. Dedicated to ensuring the recording arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, the Academy honors music’s history while investing in its future through the GRAMMY Museum®, advocates on behalf of music creators, supports music people in times of need through MusiCares®, and celebrates artistic excellence through the GRAMMY Awards®—music’s only peer-recognized accolade and highest achievement. As the world’s leading society of music professionals, we work year-round to foster a more inspiring world for creators.

For more information about the Academy, please visit www.GRAMMY.com. For breaking news and exclusive content, follow @RecordingAcad on Twitter, “like” Recording Academy on Facebook, and join the Recording Academy’s social communities on Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube.

2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Bon Jovi, the Cars, Dire Straits, Moody Blues, Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe inducted; Tom Petty, Chris Cornell get tributes

April 15, 2018

by Carla Hay

Richie Sambora and Jon Bon Jovi during Bon Jovi’s performance at the 33rd Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Public Auditorium in Cleveland on April 14, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

On April 14, 2018, at the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, the 33rd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony formally inducted Bon Jovi, the Cars, Dire Straits, the Moody Blues, Nina Simone (in the performer category) and Sister Rosetta Tharpe (in the early influencer category). The inductees, announced in December 2017, were voted on by a combination of ballots from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members and online voting from the public. HBO will televise highlights from the ceremony in a special that premieres on May 5, 2018, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Bon Jovi’s performance included the band’s reunion with two former Bon Jovi members: guitarist Richie Sambora (who was in Bon Jovi from 1983 to 2013) and bassist Alec John Such, who was in Bon Jovi from 1983 to 1994. Radio personality Howard Stern inducted Bon Jovi, whose current members are lead singer Jon Bon Jovi, drummer Tico Torres, keyboardist David Bryan, bassist Hugh McDonald and guitarist Phil X. Bon Jovi’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame set list consisted of “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “It’s My Life,” “When We Were Us” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

The Killers lead singer Brandon Flowers inducted the Cars, who formed in 1976 and amicably disbanded in 1988, but they had all surviving original members in attendance  at the induction ceremony: lead singer/guitarist Ric Ocasek, lead guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes and drummer David Robinson. (Bass player Benjamin Orr died in 2000 of pancreatic cancer.) The reunited Cars then went on to perform “My Best Friend’s Girl,”  “Moving in Stereo,” “Just What I I Needed” and “You Might Think” with Weezer’s Scott Shriner filling in on bass.

Later in the ceremony, the Killers performed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “American Girl” and Petty’s solo song “Free Fallin'” in a tribute to Petty, who died in 2017 of opioid-related causes.

Dire Straits broke up in 1995, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony wasn’t enough to bring the band’s most famous lineup back together. Former Dire Straits lead singer/guitarist Mark Knopfler and his rhythm guitarist David Knopfler opted not to attend; the two brothers who co-founded Dire Straits did not give an official explanation for snubbing the ceremony, but there have been reports that David Knopfler had issues with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s travel reimbursements. Former Dire Straits members Alan Clark (keyboards), Guy Fletcher (guitar) and John Illsley (bass) were there to represent the band at the ceremony, and they performed “Telegraph Road”

The Moody Blues, inducted by Heart lead singer Ann Wilson, did make it intact to the ceremony. The Moody Blues have been going strong since 1964, and the Moody Blues key players who attended the ceremony were current members Justin Hayward (lead singer), John Lodge  and Graeme Edge (drums) and former members Denny Laine (guitar) and Mike Pinder (keyboards). The current members of Moody Blues then performed “I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock in Roll Band,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” Nights in White Satin” and “Ride My See-Saw.”

Wilson and Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell later paid tribute to fellow Seattle musician Chris Cornell, who committed suicide in 2017. Cornell was the lead singer of the bands Soundgarden and Audioslave. Wilson and Cantrell performed Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” in tribute to Cornell.

Nina Simone (who died in 2003 at the age of 70) was inducted by Mary J. Blige, who years ago had been planned to star in a biopic about Simone. Sam Waymon (Simone’s brother) accepted the honor on her behalf.) Lauryn Hill and Andra Day performed a musical tribute that included a medley of Simone songs including including “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” “I Put a Spell on You” and “Feeling Good.”

Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard inducted Tharpe, who died of a stroke in 1973 at the age of 58. Howard, Questlove and Paul Shaffer performed Tharpe’s “That’s All” and were then joined by Felicia Collins  for Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day.”

2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony: Mary J. Blige, Howard Stern, Ann Wilson among the presenters

March 29, 2018

2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction logo

The following is a press release from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

Special guests at this year’s sold-out Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, presented by Klipsch Audio, on April 14th at Public Auditorium in Cleveland will include:

  • Mary J. Blige presenting for Nina Simone
  • Andra Day performing for Nina Simone
  • Brittany Howard presenting for Sister Rosetta Tharpe
  • Ann Wilson presenting for The Moody Blues
  • Brandon Flowers presenting for The Cars
  • Howard Stern presenting for Bon Jovi

The 2018 Ceremony will honor this year’s inductees: Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

The Ceremony will once again exclusively premiere on HBO on May 5th at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Red carpet arrivals on April 14th will be live streamed from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on rockhall.com, the Rock Hall’s Facebook page (@rockandrollhalloffame) and YouTube page (youtube.com/user/rockhall).

The Rock Hall will host a week of events leading up to the ceremony, including the unveiling the all new Hall of Fame, featuring the 2018 Inductee exhibit. The new floor will open on Saturday, April 7th during Celebration Day at the Museum with a performance by 2018 Inductee Richie Sambora, free admission, and a firework show. Visit rockhall.com for a complete schedule of Rock Week events.
To receive Induction Ceremony updates and announcements sign up for the Rock Hall’s e-newsletter at www.rockhall.com/e-newsletter, follow the Rock Hall on Facebook (@rockandrollhalloffame), Twitter (@rockhall) and Instagram (@rockhall) or join the conversation using #RockHall2018.