Bonnie Raitt sat up straight with her mouth agape in surprise when she heard her name announced as winner of the Song of the Year Award at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.
She looked as if the honor came totally unexpected, even though her song “Just Like That” has elicited an emotional response from many who’ve heard it — and “Just Like That,” Raitt struck a blow for the solo songwriter.
I think Raitt’s surprise came not because she lacked confidence in the quality of her song, but more likely because of the slate of her fellow nominees in the Grammy’s Song of the Year category. It included nominated songs from artists such as Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Adele, Kendrick LaMar and Lizzo.
Also nominated in the category were Harry Styles, Gayle, Steve Lacy and the combo of DJ Khaled Featuring Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, John Legend and the rapper Friday.
If Raitt seemed surprised, her win proved a popular choice, at least from those in attendance at the Grammy Awards last Sunday, judging from the two standing ovations they gave her — the first as she made her way onstage to accept the award and the second after she addressed the audience with a brief acceptance speech.
“I’m so surprised; I don’t know what to say,” Raitt said as the camera cut to a smiling Taylor Swift. Lizzo too proved to be a good sport, flashing a good-natured smile as Raitt accepted the award.
“This is just an unreal moment,” Raitt said. “Thank you for honoring me, the only academy that surrounds me with so much support and appreciates the art of songwriting as I do.”
She told how she felt inspired to write the song as a tribute to the works of the late John Prine.
“People have been responding to the song partly because of how much I love, and we all love, John Prine and that was the inspiration for the music of this song and telling the story from the inside,” Raitt said.
She also gave a nod to other songwriters.
“I would not be here tonight if it wasn’t for the hardworking people” who put their ideas and stories to music, Raitt said.
Although Raitt is a renowned electric blues guitarist and bottleneck player, on “Just Like That” she fingerpicks an acoustic guitar, much like Prine did on many of his songs. That’s a remarkable change from the over-the-top production on recordings by nominees in some of the other categories.
“Just Like That” is a story song, about an older woman who sees a car circle her block until it stops in front of her house and a young man steps out of it and approaches her front door. The first time I heard “Just Like That,” I thought I had the storyline figured out about halfway through the song — then the lyrics took an unexpected turn I hadn’t seen coming.
I won’t insert a spoiler here for those who many not have heard the song, but it’s definitely well-worth searching out for a listen. Suffice to say, it’s not easily forgotten.
Raitt picked up two more Grammys for a total of three during the awards ceremony. They included another win for “Just Like That” for Best Americana Roots Song and she also won the Best Americana Performance Award for her song “Made Up Mind.”
The Song of the Year Grammy Award is to honor songwriters.
Out of the 10 songs nominated for Song of the Year, Raitt’s was the only one written by a solo writer. One of the nominated songs credits 10 different people as writers of the song.
After Raitt won the Song of the Year Award, some — not the other nominees — took to social media and criticized the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for awarding the Song of the Year Grammy Award to such a “little-known artist.”
Raitt is hardly a stranger to the Grammy Awards. She’s now won 13 Grammys, in categories with competitive nominations, along with her Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022.
She picked up her first Grammy Awards in 1990 for her now-classic album “Nick of Time.” The album brought her three awards, including Album of the Year and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
She and bluesman John Lee Hooker even won a 1990 Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording for their duet “I’m in the Mood” from Hooker’s album, “The Healer.”
More Grammy Awards followed in 1991, when Raitt released her album “Luck of the Draw.” She won two more Grammys in 1994 when she released her album “Longing in Their Hearts.” Other honors have come her way as well.
Raitt is the first female guitarist to have her own Fender Signature Artists guitar line. It’s a Fender Stratocaster with a body made of light ash, with a maple neck and rosewood fretboard, with a special narrow C neck, in production from 1995-2001.
Even those first Grammy Awards came after Raitt had been pursuing her professional career for a couple of decades. She recorded her first album, simply titled “Bonnie Raitt” in 1971 at the age of 21 — and she soon came to be considered one of the best bottleneck blues guitarists around. She didn’t score her first single hit record until 1977 with a track from her album “Sweet Forgiveness” — when she did a bluesy remake of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.”
Raitt has always been a generous performer — both onstage and off. Onstage, she’s collaborated or performed alongside a number of fellow artists during her career. She even joined fellow singers Jennifer Warnes and k.d. lang to serve as a trio of background female vocalists for the great Roy Orbison when he recorded his special “Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night.”
Offstage, Raitt’s been involved in a variety of causes, including honoring her mentors and those whose music inspired her along the way — even if she never met them in-person.
Working with the Mount Zion Memorial Fund, she helped fund a memorial headstone for “Mississippi Fred McDowell” — probably best-known for writing the blues-based standard “You’ve Got to Move,” covered by a myriad of artists, including the Rolling Stones.
Raitt’s Grammy Award for Song of the Year last Sunday night did more than spotlight a great song.
It also proved once again that some of the best songs can still be written by an artist working alone to share a piece of his or her soul — and not by a committee banding their resources together to try and write a hit, often by including elements and buzzwords that worked for the hit that preceded it.
Sure, lots of great rock songwriters have written as teams: Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, etc. — but having 10 people credited as a songwriter? I’m sure they deserved it if they all contributed, but it does seem more like writing by committee than by inspiration.
With “Just Like That” Raitt proved the solitary writer can still be a force when it comes to the art of songwriting.
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.