A sentimental ballad inspired by a mother’s real-life grief won Song of the Year at the 2023 Grammy Awards and finally gave an Americana artist true recognition as a song-writer after more than 50 years of recording and performing.
Singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt collected the prestigious Grammy for “Just Like That” – a song she was inspired to write after watching a television news story about a mother who met up with the recipient of her dead son’s transplanted heart and how she was able to hear her child’s heart beating again.
Raitt was visibly shocked when the First Lady Jill Biden named her as winner of one of the night’s major awards. Earlier in the evening, in the non-televised segment, she had won Best American Roots Song for “Just Like That” and collected a third Grammy for Best Americana Performance with “Made Up Mind.”
And her acceptance speech for Song of the Year was one of the most sincere seen recently at the Recording Academy’s annual wards.
“Oh my God, I’m so surprised I don’t know what to say,” she gasped. “This is an unreal moment, thank you for honouring me. And to the Academy which surrounds me with so much support and appreciates the art of song writing as I do.”
She then briefly explained how “Just Like That” was conceived.
“I was so inspired for this song by the incredible story of the love and the grace and generosity of someone that donates their beloved’s organs to help another person live. And that story was so simple and so beautiful for these times.”
She used the occasion to pay a special tribute to her old friend and collaborator John Prine, who died of COVID complications in 2020.
“And 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 for this song and telling a story from the inside,” she said.
“I don’t write a lot of songs but I’m so proud that you appreciate this one and what this means for me and for the rest of the songwriters,” she added. “I would not be here tonight if it wasn’t for the art of the great soul-diggers, hard-working people that put these songs and ideas to music.”
She ended: “I thank my team for helping me get this record out and thank you so much. I am just totally humbled. I really appreciate it. Thank you.”
The three awards took the 73-year-old Californian’s Grammy total to 13 since she won her first in 1990. In addition, last year she was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. All-in-all, she has received a total 32 Grammy nominations in the past 43 years, including four this year. But until now, none had been for song-writing.
And although her own compositions have been scattered among most of her 18 studio albums – the self-titled first in 1971 and the latest Just Like That in 2022 – she is more renown for discovering and interpreting songs from other great writers. And her signature song happens to be a wonderful version of the John Prine classic “Angel from Montgomery” she first recorded in 1974 for her Streetlights album.
In a fascinating interview with The New York Times prior to the Grammys, Raitt told pop critic Jon Pareles in more detail how the slow, endearing “Just Like That” came to her: “And completely out of the blue, I saw this news program. They followed this woman with a film crew to the guy’s house who received her son’s heart. There was a lump in my throat – it was very emotional.”
She added: “And when he asked her to sit down next to him and asked if she’d like to put her head on his chest and listen to his heart – I can’t even tell the story to this day without choking up, because it was so moving to me.”
And, true to her word, Raitt skillfully translated what she saw on the news story into first-person lyrics:
I lay my head upon his chest
And I was with my boy again
I spent so long in darkness
Never thought the night would end
But somehow grace has found me
And I had to let him in
Raitt got a fourth nomination for Best Americana Album – that category going to Brandi Carlile for “In These Silent Days.” Carlile would enhance her reputation as a multi-genre artist when “Broken Horses” won her Grammys for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance.
Perhaps the most deserved award at the 65th Grammys was Best Bluegrass Album won by Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway for their lauded 2022 release Crooked Tree. Tuttle had made Grammy history by becoming the first Bluegrass artist to get nominated for the all-genre Best New Artist Award. She was one of 10 finalists for the New Artist title, which went to jazz singer Samara Joy.
Tuttle is also no stranger to awards, having already collected eight in the past seven years. In 2017 she became the first female to win the Guitar Player of the Year Award at the annual International Bluegrass Music Awards. She won the same honour the following year, when she also collected Instrumentalist of the Year at the Americana Music Awards.
And only a week ago, Crooked Tree was named Album of the Year at the International Folk music Awards in Kansas City, Missouri.
At the other end of the career spectrum, Willie Nelson took his Grammy tally to 15 – over 48 years – after winning Best Country Album for “A Beautiful Time” and Best Country Solo Performance for “Live Forever,” an aptly-named song for a performer who will turn 90 on April 29. “A Beautiful Time” was Nelson’s 98th studio album.
And speaking of old timers, there was a Grammy for two roots legends, Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder, who won the Best Blues Album Grammy for Get on Board: The Songs of Sony Terry & Brownie McGhee. As per the title, the album featured 11 songs drawn from recordings by southern blues legends Terry and McGhee, another great blues twosome Taj and Ry first heard as teenagers.
But all these achievements have little chance of appearing in the mainstream music media. They were overshadowed by “Queen B’ Beyonce picking up four awards to take her total to 32 – an all-time Grammy record.
Americana/Roots/Country Grammy Winners:
Song of the Year
“Just Like That” – Bonnie Raitt
Best American Roots Song
“Just Like That” – Bonnie Raitt, songwriter
Best Americana Performance
“Made Up Mind” – Bonnie Raitt
Best Bluegrass Album
“Crooked Tree” – Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway
Best Americana Album
“In These Silent Days” – Brandi Carlile
Best American Roots Performance
“Stompin Ground “ – Aaron Neville and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band Aaron Neville with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Best Country Solo Performance
“Live Forever” – Willie Nelson
Best Country Album
“A Beautiful Time” – Willie Nelson
Best Country Song
“ ‘Til You Can’t” – Cody Johnson, songwriter
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
“Never Wanted to Be That Girl” – Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde
Best Traditional Blues Album
“Get On Board” – Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder
Best Contemporary Blues Album
“Brother Johnny” – Edgar Winter
Best Folk Album
“Revealer” – Madison Cunningham
Best Regional Roots Music Album
“Live at the 2022 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival” – Ranky Tanky