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The History of David Bowie and the Grammys

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When Lady Gaga takes the stage at the Grammys on Feb. 15 to honor David Bowie, it’ll add a bittersweet postscript to a rock legend’s long relationship with modern music’s preeminent awards show.

Even though Bowie didn’t receive the first of his 10 nominations until 1984, when his Let’s Dance LP was up for Album of the Year and his song “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” was one of the nominees for Best Rock Vocal Performance – Male, he made a noteworthy appearance at the 17th Annual Grammy Awards on March 1, 1975.

Bowie was on hand at the Uris Theater in New York to present Aretha Franklin with the year’s Best R&B Vocal Performance — Female award, which she took home for the cover of “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” she recorded for her Let Me in Your Life LP. The evening marked Franklin’s incredible eighth consecutive year taking home the award, and deserved one heck of a speech — which she got from Bowie, albeit not in the way most onlookers might have liked.

Drifting through a period of unhealthy drug use at the time, Bowie was clearly not in the most lucid frame of mind when he strolled out on the stage, and his speech reflected it. Addressing “Ladies and gentlemen, and others,” he rambled for several minutes, although he was at least on the ball enough to add, “I am honored to have been selected to perform this particular task. My personal award is having the opportunity to salute ce premiere femme noir.”

Franklin, for her part, seemed somewhat less than impressed, but Bowie’s fumbled attempt at honoring the Queen of Soul didn’t put much of a dent in her mood. “Wow, this is so good I could kiss David Bowie,” she quipped. “I mean that in a beautiful way, because we did.”

Bowie would go on to receive regular nominations throughout the ’80s and beyond, and although he won only once — taking home Best Video, Short Form in 1985 for “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean” — his stature in the rock ‘n’ roll firmament was properly acknowledged when the Academy bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award upon him in 2006, which Madonna accepted in his stead.

Had he lived longer and opted to continue releasing new albums, Bowie would undoubtedly have racked up further nominations — and perhaps a handful of wins. As of this writing, it’s unclear how Gaga will pay tribute to Bowie at the Grammys, but in the wake of his untimely passing, it should be nothing short of memorable. Promising “at least three or four” of his songs, Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich told the New York Times it would be It “a true homage to who David was, particularly musically, but not ignoring his influence on fashion and pop culture in a broader way.”

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