‘She appeared fragile to me’
Fifteen years in the past, the fiftieth Annual Grammy Awards ceremony at Los Angeles’s Staples Middle (now the Crypto.com Area) was an particularly star-studded affair, even by Grammy requirements — with performances by A-listers like Carrie Underwood, Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé with Tina Turner, Rihanna with the Time, Ye with Daft Punk, the Foo Fighters with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, and even a rock ‘n’ roll medley by Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and John Fogerty.
However the greatest star of the evening, Amy Winehouse, wasn’t in a position to carry out there in particular person.
In December 2007, the British torch singer entered rehab, after a video of her showing to make use of medicine had gone viral; on account of the fallout, she was denied a piece visa by U.S. officers when the Grammys had been set to happen two months later. Longtime Grammy Awards producer Ken Ehrlich — who “was by no means in favor of doing distant performances” and having “8,000 folks within the viewers, however no one onstage” — reveals to Yahoo Leisure that at the beginning “there was some inside dialogue” about whether or not or not Winehouse could be a part of the 2008 ceremony in any respect.
“The vibe of a dwell occasion present just like the Grammys is all people’s purported to be collectively within the room. So, it was a significant dialog about whether or not we must always break precedent — and break it for Amy,” Ehrlich, who produced the awards telecast from 1980 to 2020, recollects. “However come on — there was no means we had been going try this present with out her that 12 months.”
Winehouse merely had to be a part of the festivities, in some means: She was 2008’s high nominee, in six whole classes, and was predicted to be the massive winner. (She ended up profitable 5 of these awards in absentia, together with Document and Music of the Yr for her eerie-in-retrospect signature hit, “Rehab,” and Greatest New Artist. At the moment, she was the one fifth feminine solo artist to obtain 5 Grammys in a single evening, following Lauryn Hill, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, and Beyoncé.)
And so, Ehrlich agreed to make a uncommon exception and go distant — simply so long as Winehouse’s via-satellite efficiency felt like a particular occasion.
Nevertheless, Ehrlich and his crew waited so long as doable to make this determination, hoping that Winehouse would in some way be allowed to journey to L.A. in any case. “We stayed very optimistic about having her right here, nearly till the tip; I do not suppose it was rather more than possibly per week or 10 days earlier than that we lastly came upon she could not,” he says. “And the highly regarded [Universal Records music executive] Monte Lipman, who was very a lot concerned together with her on the time, was instrumental. I imply, they had been leaping by means of hoops.
“We all the time had good relations with the State Division, so we had been speaking to them about attempting to have an effect on some type of a waiver for her. However I feel their philosophy was, ‘If we make an exception for her, then we open ourselves up for every part,’ and blah, blah, blah. You realize, there have been medicine concerned, and there have been different points,” Ehrlich continues. “So, there was little or no we might do. We relied on the State Division and we put all our eggs of their basket, hoping that they may assist us and hoping that they had been on our aspect. I feel in the end it proved that they form of had been on our aspect — however that they had larger fish to fry than a efficiency of a pop star on an awards present.”
Apparently, the State Division did unexpectedly reverse its rejection of Winehouse’s visa, as reported by the New York Times simply two days earlier than the Grammy ceremony. However by that time, it was clearly means too late to vary the plan that was now in place — which was to have Winehouse carry out dwell, through satellite tv for pc hyperlink, from London’s Riverside Studios, beneath the route of Ehrlich’s colleague, veteran British director Hamish Hamilton. (Ehrlich recollects contemplating the legendary David Mallet, finest identified for steering music movies by Queen and David Bowie and main live performance movies by Pink Floyd and U2, for the job; nevertheless, Mallet was unavailable.) Hamilton’s directing résumé consists of big-scale occasions like a number of Tremendous Bowl halftime exhibits, Olympic ceremonies, the Emmys, the Oscars, however for Amy’s efficiency, he and Ehrlich determined to remain small.
“It was all in regards to the uniqueness of this artist; it wasn’t about supporting her with huge sound and lights. It was about placing her on an [intimate] stage. We agreed fairly early on that we weren’t going to do any extraordinary issues. Hamish got here up with the concept of creating it a desk setting, in order that it felt like a nightclub,” Ehrlich explains. “We weren’t attempting to match the artifice of an awards-show look. And that was the plus of it: Because it turned out, the efficiency was electrical. It was actually one thing.”
Given the truth that Winehouse’s Riverside Studios efficiency would happen at 3 a.m. London time — and that she had a nasty popularity not just for the rampant drug use that had prevented her from attending the Grammys within the first place, however for steadily “lacking exhibits and canceling issues” — it could’ve been comprehensible if Ehrlich had been anxious that this is able to be a live-televised catastrophe. And but, he by no means demanded that Winehouse be sober for her efficiency — though it turned out that she really was.
“I keep in mind having a dialog with [Winehouse’s manager] Ray [Coberg], and Ray assuring me that she was going to be straight that evening,” Ehrlich recollects. “It wasn’t a part of the deal, in fact. I did not ask her. She did not signal a paper agreeing to that. I by no means did. I do not try this. If you happen to discuss to anyone about the best way that I work, I imagine most of them would say that I’ve this implicit religion in an artist’s capability to show it on. So, no, I by no means requested for that [guarantee].
“The truth is, in any case these years working with artists, there was no novelty about discovering somebody strolling in stoned or no matter; that is form of a part of the deal. However I do keep in mind Ray making some extent of it. I remembered him saying to me, ‘Don’t be concerned! She’s so excited and she or he’s actually prepared for this. She needs this to be nice.’ I do keep in mind that being volunteered by Ray. I am positive it was not the primary time he’d needed to make that promise to somebody.”
In unarchived Grammy-night footage in 2015’s Oscar-winning documentary Amy, Winehouse could be seen giddily watching as her idol, presenter Tony Bennett, publicizes her Document of the Yr win on a video display screen, then showing completely surprised as her bandmates and joyfully weeping mom Janis crowd round to embrace her. However then there’s a heartbreaking voiceover by her childhood finest pal, Juliette Ashby, who was at Riverside, recalling that Winehouse complained off-camera that the whole Grammy expertise was “simply so boring with out medicine.”
Following her huge Grammy evening, Winehouse continued to wrestle with dependancy, and the media continued to bash her. The truth is, rubbernecking reporters targeted extra on her Grammy acceptance speech’s off-the-cuff point out of “Blake, Incarcerated” — aka her troubled then-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, who three months earlier had been arrested for his half in a pub assault — than on her triumphant near-sweep on the awards. Winehouse by no means launched a studio follow-up to her Grammy-winning Again to Black album, and three and a half years after the 2008 Grammys, she was lifeless from alcohol poisoning, at age 27.
Ehrlich clearly didn’t get to spend time in particular person with Winehouse in 2008, though at one level he did contemplate “working over to London and having one eye-to-eye together with her” earlier than he realized he couldn’t get away. (“We weren’t doing Zoom calls again in these days,” he quips.) However regardless that he was “indifferent due to the space,” Winehouse made a significant impression on him that historic Grammy 12 months.
“She appeared fragile to me,” Ehrlich says softly. “The actual fact of the matter is, I like working with girls artists. I simply have all the time gravitated to them. … I’ve all the time had this mushy spot for the vulnerability of feminine artists. … And I can particularly keep in mind feeling a specific vulnerability that I used to be conscious of with Amy. And it wasn’t simply me that was conscious of it; she was a multitude, and other people knew it. So, I used to be coping with somebody that was a robust persona, however somebody that had a substantial amount of vulnerability about her.”
However Ehrlich sadly provides: “Through the years, little or no surprises me about artists. I feel one of many causes that they’re who they’re is as a result of they’ve a barely tilted sense of life on the whole. The hoops that they’ve to leap by means of to get to the place they’re, and the frustration and the melancholy and the rejection and all of that… I am not stunned at just about something I hear from an artist. It is a part of the equipment that you just get once you work with them.”
The sixty fifth Annual Grammy Awards ceremony will happen at Los Angeles’s Crypto.com Area this Sunday and can air on CBS and Paramount+ at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET.
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