1960 OMAs: Album of the Year


1960 One Man Academy
Album of the Year

Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, Harry Belafonte

Worth a listen (and not just because it's Sinatra[1]):

  • Come Dance with Me!, Frank Sinatra

About Van Cliburn
1960 is Van Cliburn's second and final nomination for Album of the Year, which makes this an appropriate place for a special mention. While I'm not doing any intentional contextual research for this project, I did unintentionally run across some information about him.

Apparently, homeboy rolled into Russia in the middle of the Cold War to compete in a Tchaikovsky Competition -- a competition which definitely was not intended to have an American winner. However, Van rocked it *so hard* that he walked away with the win and, in my opinion, certified BAMF status.

Check his Wikipedia page here.

Harry at Carnegie
Belafonte at Carnegie Hall was a fun, fascinating album for this project; I've written and discarded many words about it. My feelings on the album basically unfolded as follows:

  • I hate it, and I write as much.
  • On general principle I decide a rewrite is necessary, focusing more on what I find problematic about the album, and less on my hatred.
  • After more consideration, I tell a friend I want to rework my thoughts, yet again, because I still feel I'm being unduly harsh.
  • I decide I do not hate the album and that it's actually quite good. The song "Mama Look a Boo Boo" lights up my heart, producing a love that is pure and true.

I think something I'll call "The Hamilton Effect" can explain at least part of the transition.

The Hamilton Effect

First and foremost, I should publicly apologize to a friend of mine. On October 8th, 2015, she sent me a very simple text message:

OMG...have you listened to Hamilton? So good.

Perhaps I live under a rock, but this was the first time I'd heard of the musical[2]. I was so devoid of context for what I was listening to, I didn't have any point-of-entry to understanding and, subsequently, enjoying the album. My basic thought progression was something like this:

  • This is Broadway, right? But are they rapping? Will they be rapping the entire time?? Should I wait for the rapping to end and the singing to start?
  • Are they talking about old-timey stuff? Is this taking place back in the day?
  • And why is it called "Hamilton"? Will that become important at some point?? Wait a second -- Hamilton... Like the president?
  • If this is Hamilton the president, is this biographical? Or are they placing him into a different narrative setting? Like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Is this going to be some weird thing where Hamilton wants to be a rapper and the whole play is some weird metaphor for federalism...

I quite seriously had absolutely no idea what I was listening to, nor did I know what to listen for in the music to find my bearings.

I eventually broke my friend's heart, writing to her almost a month later on October 30th...

I abandoned hope.
It was too much for me.

Although we never talked about it, I know how much respect she lost for me on that day: a lot.

I've since learned to appreciate Hamilton. She was right.

Between then and now, I was able to answer some critical questions:

  • Yes, there's a lot of rapping.
  • Yes, it's set back in the day.
  • Yes, it's about the "Hamilton" I'm thinking of but, no, he wasn't a president.
  • Yes, it's more-or-less a portrayal of his life.

Once I had my bearings, I was able to actually experience the album. It's hard to enjoy something when you don't know what it is[3].

Here's the Hamilton Effect, as applied to my experience with Belafonte at Carnegie Hall:

  • I couldn't figure out why he was singing a collection of folk songs, categorized by ethnicity;
  • I found his King's English to be a bit too precise, which was jarring on its own; and
  • The precise King's English also made me wonder about the racial make-up of the audience, and the potential racial politics of his performance at Carnegie Hall, and the general racial climate of that time.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that stuff and writing about it... and then I moved on and started previewing 1961, 1962, etc.

Eventually, after some of those questions fell away, I was able to actually experience the album. Once I found my bearings, I realized the album was actually quite nice and a lot of fun.

So, while it took a while for me to come around, Belafonte at Carnegie Hall is a solid album. He has a great voice and he's quite charming in parts. I'm still not sure why he's singing a collection of folk songs, but once I let go of the "why" and leaned into the experience, everything got much better.

The 1960 nominees for Album of the Year

  • Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, Harry Belafonte
  • Come Dance with Me!, Frank Sinatra
  • More Music From Peter Gunn, Henry Mancini[4]
  • Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3, Van Cliburn
  • Victory at Sea, Vol. 1, Robert Russell Bennett

Featured songs from this post: Spotify

The current One Man Academy (OMA) project is listening to the Grammy's Album of the Year nominees and re-choosing winners, absent of historical context.

All previous OMA Album of the Year Winners

  1. See The Rules of the Road for more information on The Sinatra Rule ↩︎

  2. I initially assumed Hamilton was the name of a new R&B artist ↩︎

  3. #FreeRelationshipAdvice ↩︎

  4. I wasn't able to locate this album. There are a number of false alarms out there, but I believe this is the correct track listing and I couldn't find anything that matched. ↩︎