Album of the Year
Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, Harry Belafonte
Worth a listen (and not just because it's Sinatra):
- 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. 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.
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
- 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
I initially assumed Hamilton was the name of a new R&B artist ↩︎