24 January 2008

2008 Grammy’s: Field 19, Category 79

It's a category most people aren't even aware exists. It's a category whose award presentation is never done on TV. And in 2008, it's a category that may well decide the fate of the entire planet. It's Field 19, Category 79: "Best Spoken Word Album." I noted in an earlier Grammy's post that the competitors are two former presidents, a presidential hopeful, an actor who has played at least one president and a presidential hopeful, and Maya Angelou.

Since that original post, the novelty of this one category has captured my fascination and so I have researched the field and the candidates to make a researched prediction. Yes, I'm aware that people who actually follow the Grammy's care about other fields and categories like "Album of the Year," but for analysis like that, you've got Rolling Stone. Ten to one says they don't say a word about Field 19, which is why I have to do it.

Consider that, since 2003, Grammy voters in this category have awarded entries by three Democrats (all of whom are nominees this year) and Al Franken, for his Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Grammy voters were clearly influenced by their strong liberal leanings when they awarded the Dixie Chicks four Grammy's in 2006. In many respects, this year's Grammy's could amount to a second primary election for the state of California. More on that later. Here are the nominees, along with impressions of their chances:

Alan Alda, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
Alan Alda has six Emmy Awards, but to date no Grammy. Alda's Things is more than a continuation of his memoirs; it is a collection of reflections from a man of considerable experience trying to gain perspective on his life and the world around him. Subjects of aging, births of children and September 11 are themes that should resonate easily with listeners. Grammy voters may find his message more accessible, and that could give his '06 Emmy for The West Wing some help standing up to the five Emmy's on his mantle from M*A*S*H.

Maya Angelou, Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer
Angelou has the strongest track record with the Grammy's of the five nominees, having won thrice already. Her wins include The Pulse of Morning (1993), Phenominal Woman (1995) and A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002). Interestingly enough, Celebrations includes "The Pulse of Morning," the poem Angelou composed for, and read during, President Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993. Angelou's subjects are more similar to Alan Alda's than to the rest of the nominees, but her different medium may be the key to her collecting her fourth Grammy award.

Jimmy Carter, Sunday Morning in Plains: Bringing Peace to a Changing World
President Carter is the defending champion of Category 79, for Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis. The fact that he has won so recently could cut either way; some voters will feel he's on a roll and give him another nod, while others will consider his '06 trophy a reason to eliminate him from the pack. Grammy voters like to let their politics be known, and it's difficult to imagine them not awarding this to either our potential next president or our potential first-ever First Gentleman.

Bill Clinton, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World
The other president in the running, Bill Clinton has already won two Grammy Awards. His abridged reading of his autobiography, My Life, won in 2004. President Clinton also won the year before in the Childrens categor as a participant in the Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf with Mikhail Gorbachev and Sophia Loren the year before. Like Carter, Clinton's subject material is one in which he is established as an authority, working through his Clinton Foundation since leaving office. Hillary Clinton's name may be absent on the Grammy ballot, but voters may consider expressing their support for her candidacy by awarding Mr. Clinton his third Grammy.

Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
Senator Obama's previous work, Dreams from My Father, won him his first Grammy in 2005. I'm not sure how Audacity qualified for this year's Grammy awards, since its publication date was November 6, 2007 (September 30 is the cutoff date). The fact that Senator Obama is running for the highest office in the country may encourage Grammy voters to endorse his candidacy by giving him the nod for Best Spoken Album; then again, they may feel they've heard this speech by Obama too many times and reserve their vote for the ballot booth in November and award the Grammy to someone else.

Final prediction: Senator Barack Obama wins his second Grammy award. Grammy voters who favor Hillary Clinton over Obama may be inclined to vote for her by proxy by casting their vote for Bill, but the fact that Obama's name is on both their ballots gives him the edge. Besides, they included him despite having been published after their eligibility period anyway; if they went to all that trouble to get him into the final round, then there's enough support to get him a trophy.