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Tanya Tucker Achieves An Elusive Career Milestone At The 62nd Grammy Awards

Val Hoeppner
Tanya Tucker performing at last Fall's AmericanaFest.

Tanya Tucker, the rowdy outlaw country star of the 1970s and 80s, capped off a remarkable comeback year on Sunday winning her first-ever Grammy Awards almost 50 years after releasing her debut single. The Nashville-based legend took home two trophies: Best Country Album for 2019’s While I’m Livin’, and she shared Best Country Song for “Bring My Flowers Now.” 

“You know, after almost 50 years in this business, after many dreams, it’s unbelievable to me that I’d still have a few firsts left,” she said after winning the song prize. “So after fourteen trips, fourteen nominations, this is the first win. I can’t believe it.”

“This is really Tanya’s moment. And this is her song,” said Brandi Carlile, who’s been instrumental in supporting Tucker’s surge. “This song’s the story of her life. And it’s one of the great honors of my life to stand next to you as you get your first Grammy at 61 years old.”

Tucker’s album was widely praised by critics and cited among the year’s best country albums but it wasn’t played in any significant way on the country radio format where she had so many hits. Americana radio did play While I’m Livin’, which landed in the Top 50 albums for national airplay in 2019. And Tucker performed one of the best-attended sets at the 2019 AmericanaFest convention.

Another roots music veteran who had a good Sunday was Delbert McClinton, who took home his fourth career Grammy Award, this one for Tall, Dark & Handsome which won Best Traditional Blues Album. He was joined on stage by many of his fellow musicians, including long time guitarist Bob Britt and the album’s co-producer, keyboardist Kevin McKendree. “Yeah baby!,” McClinton said with laughter at the podium. “The reason this makes me feel so good is that I did this record with the people I admire the most.” 

Austin, TX blues rock guitarist and songwriter Gary Clark Jr. snared three Grammy Awards for his ferocious black anthem “This Land” (some of which had to be silenced out during his show-stopping TV performance). The opus took Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance while the titular album won the Best Contemporary Blues prize.

The Americana Album Grammy went to Franklin, TN's Keb’ Mo’ for his 2019 release Oklahoma, and he accepted the prize with his producer Colin Linden by his side. The artists who make up I’m With Her - Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins - shared a Grammy as songwriters for “Call My Name,” which was released as a single in 2019 and which they performed on the live-streamed Premiere ceremony. The American Roots Performance Grammy, in a win that may generate controversy for its categorization, went to pop standout Sara Bareilles for “Saint Honesty,” from her T Bone Burnett produced album Amidst The Chaos. 

The Best Bluegrass Album Grammy marked a first-time win for Michael Cleveland and his release Tall Fiddler. He'd been nominated once in the past, but he’s the most decorated fiddler in the history of the International Bluegrass Music Association, with 12 Fiddle Player of the Year prizes. The English singer and songwriter Yola, who broke out of the Americana Music Association’s English and American conventions and teamed up with producer Dan Auerbach, came away with no wins yesterday on four nominations, including Best New Artist, which went to the night’s big sweeper, pop breakout Billie Eilish.

The category Best Regional Roots Music Album honored a fascinating band that already has the wind at its back, as South Carolina’s Ranky Tanky won the category. The quintet has earned glowing national coverage for its jazz and soul updates and interpretations of traditional music from the Gullah culture. Trumpet player Charleton Singleton told the crowd: “It’s an honor to be here standing on the shoulders of our Gullah ancestry and bringing this music to the world.”

While I’m Livin' was Tanya Tucker’s first album release in ten years and her first non-covers album since 2002. She has said she became withdrawn and unmotivated after her hits waned and after the passing of her parents in the mid 2000s. Carlile and Shooter Jennings, son of the late icon Waylon Jennings, coaxed her back into the studio. Carlile worked with her longtime musical partners Tim and Phil Hanseroth to write most of the songs on the project. But “Bring My Flowers Now” was a song Tucker says she started more than 40 years ago, which Carlile and team helped finish. 

Tucker's two awards were announced back to back, marking an emotional high during the Grammy Premiere Ceremony Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, where most of the 84 categories are presented. Tucker sang “Bring My Flowers Now” on the CBS prime time broadcast with Carlile at the piano.

The 62nd annual Grammy Awards took place under a mushroom cloud of controversy. Just days before the ceremonies, the recently ousted CEO Deborah Dugan filed a scathing, multi-count complaint with the federal government about the Recording Academy. She insists that she was retaliated against for acting on her mandate to bring rapid, sweeping change to the organization. And she identified what she said were numerous instances of insider dealing, “rigged” award voting and sexual misconduct. References to the chaos on the awards were oblique at best, but the entire music industry will be watching the Academy closely in the coming months. 

The complete list of Grammy Award winners can be found here.