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Hey gurl, it’s Randy Rainbow!

Parody star on Trump, Barbra, Biden, and more as he preps concert tour

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Randy Rainbow performs in D.C. on Oct. 8 and 9. (Photo courtesy Rainbow)

For many like-minded people, gay and straight, there was a ray of light and joy during the four years of Trump’s reign of terror. Shining brightly through the seemingly impenetrable dark storm clouds, Randy Rainbow burst forth with colorful parody songs and videos that provided endless sources of laughs. His multitude of devoted fans and followers looked forward to Rainbow’s brilliantly executed audio/visual treats, as catchy as they were thought provoking. Hard at work on the follow-up to his 2019 debut album “Hey Gurl, It’s Christmas,” as well as working on the plans for his multi-city concert tour, Randy was gracious enough to answer a few questions. He performs at the Orpheum Theatre on Nov. 13 and 14. Tickets start at $57 and are still available at ticketsonsale.com.

BLADE: Randy, I’d like to begin by asking you to say a few words about the process of selecting a song for your parody lyrics, and if there’s ever been a song that you really wanted to use but had to abandon because it wasn’t a good fit?

RANDY RAINBOW: I’m a show queen! I naturally think in show tunes. I’ve just sort of been conditioned through the years, starting at home with my mom who’s always loved the genre, to naturally find the musical theater parallel to any situation, be it in my personal life or on the world stage. That’s the easy part. A few times I have written songs and didn’t release them because the news had shifted to focus on something else. It’s rare, but it has happened.

BLADE: Are you bombarded by suggestions of songs to parody from friends and fans, and if so, have you ever used any of them?

RAINBOW: Yes, and it’s led to a few repeats. I had already done a parody of the song “Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” but then when the word “sedition” came into the zeitgeist, thanks to you-know-who, everyone was clamoring for a reprise. Same happened with my “Kamala” parody to the tune of “Camelot,” which I’d used a few years back for Kavanaugh.

BLADE: The last time we spoke was in 2019 around the time you released your debut album, “Hey Gurl, It’s Christmas.” Looking back on the experience of making that record, how would you rate it?

RAINBOW: I loved it so much I’m doing it again!

BLADE: I was told that you are now busy in the recording studio working on your new album. What can you tell the readers about it?

RAINBOW:  There are some amazing collaborations on this one. I’m dueting with guest stars like Bernadette Peters, Josh Gad, Sean Hayes, and Tituss Burgess. I’ve also written two new original songs with Marc Shaiman and Alan Menken. Can you believe?! It’s called “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” and will be released later this year through Broadway Records. Stand by!

BLADE: How much of your upcoming tour will revolve around the songs on the new album?

RAINBOW: I am actually working on that right now. I definitely want to include some of the new songs, but there will be plenty of my “greatest hits” in there, too.

BLADE: You are an incredibly prolific artist. Did being isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic cause you to be more productive or did your productivity remain the same?

RAINBOW: Believe it or not, 2020 was a very busy year for me artistically. In addition to the videos, I began writing my first memoir, recording the new album, launching a new podcast – it goes on. I am so grateful.

BLADE: Many folks baked sourdough bread during the shutdown. Are you one of them?

RAINBOW: Hell, no! I did what everyone else in New York City does, order take-out [laughs]!

BLADE: Because “45” was such an endless source of inspiration, do you find yourself missing him?

RAINBOW: [Long pause] Are you for real right now?

BLADE: Do you know if “45,” or anyone in his circle, was aware of your songs and videos?

RAINBOW: I’ve been told by some reliable sources that there were, and continue to be, a few fans of mine on Team Trump. I have to assume Melania.

BLADE: Is it difficult to parody Joe Biden because he’s such a likable and seemingly effective POTUS?

RAINBOW: I don’t set out to parody (the) POTUS, specifically. Trump was just an endless source of comedy. Believe me, there are still many in Washington that offer those OMG moments.

BLADE: You have an upcoming concert date in Fort Lauderdale. What does it mean to you when you perform for the hometown crowd in Broward County?

RAINBOW: It’s incredibly special, as you can imagine. And, of course, my mom will be in the audience.   

BLADE: What did it mean to you when Barbra Streisand tweeted about your “Marjorie Taylor Greene” video?

RAINBOW: Barbra has now tweeted me twice, I’ll have you know! I was even asked by her team to create a video celebrating the release of her new album. I mean. I can’t believe it!  It’s BARBRA! She’s my only religion.  

BLADE: Have you recently heard from any other celebrities, either those who have been the subject of your videos or just as fans?

RAINBOW: I get lots of support from my fancy, famous friends every time I release a video and I love them for it. I also always get a note from another of my idols, Carol Burnett. She and my mom have become pen pals!

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Music & Concerts

Janet Jackson doc premieres this weekend

Remembering 10 times iconic singer was there for LGBTQ community

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Janet Jackson’s two-part, four-hour documentary debuts this weekend. (File photo by Shilla Patel)

LOS ANGELES – Iconic singer Janet Jackson, a longtime LGBTQ ally, unveils her long-awaited documentary simply titled “Janet” on Friday, Jan. 28. It concludes the following night; each installment is two hours long. 

Jackson has said she spent five years compiling footage and creating the documentary, which airs at 8 p.m. both nights on A&E and Lifetime networks. It was produced by Jackson and her brother Randy Jackson and it’s timed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of her 1982 debut album. 

An extended trailer for the film reveals Jackson will talk candidly about her brother Michael and the 2004 Super Bowl incident, including the news that Justin Timberlake reached out and asked her to join him during his widely panned 2018 Super Bowl return performance. 

Prior to the pandemic, Jackson announced a new studio album and tour titled “Black Diamond,” but both were postponed due to COVID. No official word about the status of either, but speculation is rampant that she will finally release the new album once the documentary airs.

“Musically, what I’ve done, like doing ‘Rhythm Nation’ or doing ‘New Agenda’ or doing ‘Skin Game,’ creating those bodies of work with Jimmy and Terry, I feel like I’ve laid a certain foundation,” Jackson tells Allure magazine in a new cover story this month. “I would hope that I’d be able to continue if I choose to. You know what I mean? But only time will tell.”

As Jackson’s legion of queer fans awaits this weekend’s premiere, the Blade takes a look back at 10 times Janet was there for the LGBTQ community. 

1. “The Velvet Rope” project. In 1997, Jackson released her critically acclaimed sixth studio album “The Velvet Rope,” an introspective and deeply personal collection of songs that touched on her depression, but also tackled LGBTQ issues. On the track “Free Xone,” she spoke out forcefully against anti-LGBT bias. She also covered Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night,” without changing the pronouns in the love song, prompting speculation about her sexual orientation. But it was her international No. 1 hit “Together Again” that continues to resonate with LGBTQ fans. An upbeat, joyful dance song, it was conceived as a tribute to Jackson’s friends who died of AIDS.

2. GLAAD award. In 2008, Ellen DeGeneres presented Jackson with the Vanguard Award at the 19th annual GLAAD Media Awards. GLAAD’s president said, “We are delighted to honor Janet Jackson at the 19th annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles as such a visible, welcoming and inclusive ally of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Ms. Jackson has a tremendous following inside the LGBT community and out, and having her stand with us against the defamation that LGBT people still face in our country is extremely significant.”

3. Ebony magazine interview about her sexuality. In 2001, Jackson gave an interview to Ebony magazine in which she was asked about her sexual orientation. “I don’t mind people thinking that I’m gay or calling me gay,” she said. “People are going to believe whatever they want. Yes, I hang out at gay clubs … I go where the music is good. I love people regardless of sexual preference, regardless of race. No, I am not bisexual. I have been linked with dancers in our group because we are so close. I grew up in a big family. I love being affectionate. I love intimacy and I am not afraid to show it.”

4. Video support for It Gets Better, Trevor Project. In 2010, Jackson recorded a video for the Trevor Project and later appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live” to promote awareness of youth suicide. “If you’re LGBT you’re probably thinking you’re all alone, but you’re not,” she said in the video. “I can relate because I was one of those kids who internalized everything.”

5. “State of the World Tour.” Jackson’s LGBTQ support continued in 2017. Her tour’s opening sequence highlighted a range of problems facing the world, from famine and war to police brutality and included a call for justice and for LGBTQ rights.

6. “The Kids.” Jackson has always employed a diverse crew of professional dancers for her videos and tours. Some of her closest friends and collaborators over the years have been prominent out gay and lesbian choreographers, singers, dancers, makeup artists and designers. She lovingly refers to her backup dancers as “the Kids.”

7. NYC Pride performance. In 2004, Jackson performed for a packed audience at Pride Dance NYC at Pier 54.

8. “Will & Grace” cameo. In 2004, Jackson made a memorable cameo on “Will & Grace,” judging a dance-off between Jack and another dancer.

9. HRC, AIDS Project Los Angeles awards. In 2005, Jackson was honored by both the Human Rights Campaign and AIDS Project Los Angeles for her work raising money for AIDS charities.

10. Janet’s Blade interview. In 2006, Jackson granted an exclusive interview to the Washington Blade. It was one of the rare times she touched on the Super Bowl controversy and her brother Michael’s acquittal on child molestation charges, telling Blade Editor Kevin Naff, “I got all of that out of my system, that’s not what I’m feeling right now. I wrote about [those controversies] but I didn’t choose to put it out there on the album.” In the interview, Jackson also reiterated her support for marriage equality, said she’d never had a sexual relationship with a woman and revealed that she’d never met Madonna.

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Music & Concerts

Lighting the way: an interview with singer Janis Ian

Veteran performer embarking on final tour

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Janis Ian takes her musical bow in 2022 with a final North American tour. (Photo by Keith Stokes)

By my count, queer singer/songwriter Janis Ian has had four distinct chapters in her musical career. The first began when she was in her teens with the release of her groundbreaking single “Society’s Child,” and the albums on Verve Records that followed in the late 1960s. By the mid-1970s, for the second chapter, Ian signed to Columbia Records, resulting in the biggest hit single of her career, the Grammy Award-winning classic “At Seventeen.” She remained on Columbia into the early 1980s, even collaborating with Giorgio Moroder on the song “Fly Too High.” The third chapter occurred in the early 1990s. Bette Midler recorded Ian’s song “Some People’s Lives,” the title track of Bette’s Grammy-winning 1991 album. Ian herself recorded the song for her marvelous 1993 comeback album, the aptly titled “Breaking Silence.”

Ian has not been sitting idle since that time, mind you. She’s released a few more albums, including some on her own Rude Girl Records label. She also published her memoir “Society’s Child: My Autobiography” in 2008 and won her second Grammy for the audiobook. I have had the pleasure of interviewing Janis in 1994, 2004, 2008, and in 2022, and it is always a revelatory experience. She was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of the release of her flawless new album “The Light at the End of the Line” (Rude Girl).

BLADE: I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with the best way to say this, and I keep returning the fact that with The Light at the End of the Line, your extraordinary last solo studio album, you are going out with a bang.

JANIS IAN: [Laughs] better a bang than a whimper!

BLADE: What was involved in the decision to make this your final studio recording?

IAN: I think hitting 70 was a big part of it. Having the last 15 years to put together songs and wanting to make something that was better than anything I’d done before was involved. Mostly, the timing really worked out. I went into lockdown right around when I needed or wanted to start thinking about this. I had no plans until I looked up at my write board and realized I had 15 songs I was pleased with, and one unfinished. I started listening to what Randy Leago had done with “Resist,” and I began working with Viktor Krauss on “Better Times…” I had originally intended to do an all-solo acoustic album, but it became clear that I really wanted a blend of it to serve the songs. There wasn’t a sudden, “Gee, I’ll make an album now” decision. There was more a talking to people and seeing where Randy and Viktor’s schedules were. Seeing where John Whelan was. Whether we could get Nuala Kennedy to do her parts from Ireland. Finding a studio where I live, which is near Bradenton, so there’s not a huge amount of studios available. Then just winnowing down the songs and going, “Well, I think this is actually an album.”

BLADE: Among the many aspects that make The Light at the End of the Line exceptional is that for the 12 songs, you draw on the many influences spanning your five-decade career, beginning with “I’m Still Standing,” which is as personal as, say, “At Seventeen.”

IAN: I would say so. That was part of my goal for the entire album, and part of the winnowing down of songs, was to make sure that the songs I picked were as universal as possible, and also songs that would hopefully stand the test of time. I mean it’s incredible that “At Seventeen” was released in 1975. It’s 45 years later and it’s still getting lots of airplay. Lots of people still sing it. People are still affected by it, young people, not people anywhere close to my age. So, to make an album that would reach as many people as possible emotionally, and at the same time have songs that were as well-written as I’m capable of doing after almost 60 years as a songwriter; that was the challenge, really. So, I’m glad to hear you say that.

BLADE: The social consciousness of your music extends all the way back to “Society’s Child” and continues today with songs such as “Stranger” and “Resist.” Please say a few words about the role of social commentary in your music.

IAN: I was raised in a very political family. I grew up stuffing envelopes and going to marches. My parents were both politically aware. My mom did things like attend the Civil Rights Congress. My parents were under watch by the FBI. So, it was a natural part of my life. Everyone we knew was involved, in one way or another, in politics and social issues, because I would regard feminism as much as a social issue as a political one. Although the line between the two is pretty blurred these days as I’m sure you know. “Stranger” just came out of nowhere one night. I had an off night and I never write on the road, ever. I think I’ve written two songs in my life while I was touring. But I was changing guitar strings and came up with that little pattern and the song just fell out in the course of the evening. I’ve been thinking about it a lot because my own grandfather had to come into America on a cousin’s passport. None of us found out his real name or the story until we were in our 20s and 30s. So I started thinking with all these people saying “illegals should be deported, even if they grew up here, even if they were born here, even if they’ve lived here 40 years, where does that leave me? Should I be sent back to Poland or Russia or the Ukraine?

BLADE: It truly resonates and it’s an ongoing issue. That leads me to the next question, which is about the anthemic single “Resist,” which is one of the album’s most powerful statements, with its “I will not disappear” and titular chants. Are you ever shocked that you still find yourself having to write and perform a song such as this?

IAN: I’m shocked that it hasn’t been fixed by now [laughs], and that it seems to be getting worse. I think that in some ways my generation underestimated the determination of the powers that be to stay in power. We knew about the FBI and the CIA, but it would never have occurred to us that there would still be genital mutilation. That women would still be burned on pyres. That there would be revenge rape. It’s a shock that these things still need to be addressed, but it’s not shocking that they need to be written about. I also think that music cuts through the noise in a way that very few other things can. Politics becomes just noise. Social media becomes just noise. Music has the ability to touch people’s hearts directly in a way that none of those things can. I didn’t set out with “Resist” and think, “Oh, I’m going to write a protest song about this.” But I was plenty annoyed when I wrote it.

BLADE: That definitely comes through.

IAN: It’s a fine line for me because my voice only carries so far. I can’t do what certain singers can do with their voices. I have a relatively light voice. That’s one of the great things about Randy Leago, and what he did with it. Because he managed to leave all that space for the vocal while surrounding it with…oh, I think I had asked for angry drums. So, the first thing you hear is that thud of the bass drum, which to me is like a footstep coming into the room. Lines like “I cannot be your virgin and I will not be your whore” came out of my own experience.

BLADE: It really is an incredible song. “Nina” is a breathtaking tribute to Nina Simone. It made me think about her performance in Questlove’s 2021 documentary Summer of Soul, and how she’s being reintroduced to new generations. Have you seen the doc?

IAN: I have not seen that, but I did see the Liz Garbus documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? (from 2015) because she’s singing my song in it.

BLADE: What do you think she’d think of your song about her?

IAN: [Big laugh] I would not begin to wonder what Nina would think about anything. I wouldn’t go there for $1,000,000. Well, maybe for $1,000,000, but I would be pretty unsure of myself. Nina was monumentally easy and monumentally difficult to love. That’s what I tried to capture in the song. She was biologically ill, mentally ill, I would say, but I’m not sure what the correct phrase is these days. But there was such a big biological aspect to it and by the time that was really beginning to be understood and treated, she had already burned so many bridges and made so many people angry. I feel like I saw Nina at her best and her worst. Her best was so much better than any other performer I’ve ever watched. And her worst was pretty scary.

BLADE: As a gay man, I have always loved the story about Nina’s correspondence with Langston Hughes.

IAN: She and (James) Baldwin (were friends), too. We had lunch at my mother’s one day and she showed up with James Baldwin in tow. I don’t think she cared about that at all because artists tend not. It doesn’t really matter, it’s like skin color. Who cares as long as you’re doing great work. It’s the world that surrounds us that becomes the problem.

BLADE: That is very true! Album closer “Better Times Will Come” is the kind of uplifting number we all need at this time. I was delighted by Diane Schuur’s scat…

IAN: Isn’t she great? Deedles!

BLADE: Her “Shayna maidel” shout-out elevates the song to a different level.

IAN: We probably talk every couple of weeks or more often. We’re good buddies. She’s great.

BLADE: Was that song as much fun to record as it is to listen to?

IAN: It began out of the Better Times project that I started when lockdown began — bettertimeswillcome.com. That involved, in the end, 187 artists all doing their own versions of the song. We’ve got 13 versions still to put up! Everything from Japanese sign language interpretation to a Dutch version to a Mandarin Chinese version to banjo or guitar or flatfooting. When it came time to record it, I wanted to close the album with it, but do something completely different from what I’d done already. My version that everybody worked off for the project was just me singing the song immediately after I finished it into my phone, no guitar, no nothing. You can go to bettertimeswillcome.com and watch all those videos, see all those versions, listen to them, download them. It was a great way to promote other artists who had projects coming out and suddenly couldn’t tour or make book appearances, all of that through my Facebook page. The Facebook people were wonderfully generous. I didn’t want to repeat that or reuse it, so it became question of how I do this so that it’s totally different from anything on the album and it maintains that spirit of inclusivity. I reached out to Viktor and we literally both sat down with our phone books and went, “OK, this person would be great. That person would be great. Are they available?” Vince Gill wasn’t available because he’s out with the Eagles. We told Vince we had a two-month window and he literally turned it in three days before we went to mix. With Deedles (Schuur), she’d been in lockdown for a while. There was no nearby studio. It was working with her manager to find a studio and then coordinating it with her so that she felt safe, and she could do it in her own time, in her own way. For all the musicians, it became a question of me saying, “This is a step-out moment. Treated it like you’re in the (Tommy) Dorsey bands in the old days and he suddenly points to you and says “You take your solo. No preparation, no leading up to it, no ramping up. You just start max.” I was really pleased with it. John Cowan singing a verse to start off with. That’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, and I’ve always wanted John to sing one of my songs. The harmonies are great. People like Andrea Zonn, who’s normally out with James Taylor, because of COVID they were available. It worked for the piece. Viktor and Jared (Anderson), the young engineer he found, worked at assembling. We spent a lot of time on it. It felt like we just needed something to give us all a bit of hope, and yet to recognize COVID, which is why the ending is what it is. Because we keep thinking we’re good and then we’re not and we think we’re good and then we’re not. Trying to speak to that, as well.

BLADE: As a songwriter, you have a long history of having your songs recorded by other performers. If you had to choose one song from The Light at the End of the Line to be covered by another artist, what song would it be and who would want to hear sing it?

IAN: Oh, man, that’s pretty easy! I would have P!nk record “Resist.” I think she would slay that; I think she would just kill that song.

BLADE: Not only is The Light at the End of the Line your last studio recording but the multi-city tour on which you will be embarking throughout most of 2022 is your final North American tour. What will you miss the most and the least about touring?

IAN: The thing you miss about touring when you’re not touring is the audience. I have really good audiences. Everything from the male or female seven-year-old would-be guitarist whose parent or grandparent thinks “You should see a really good acoustic guitarist” to the 80-year-old person who’s been following me since “Society’s Child.” It’s a really broad range. I meant it when I said (in the album art) that “this album is a love song” because when I wrote (the song) “The Light at the End of the Line” I looked at it as what I was saying to my fans. One of the difficult possibilities that artists face in these days of social media and easy advertising is making sure that you consider your supporters. A word I prefer to fans, because “fans” has other connotations. The people who have always supported me — I go back to Facebook as an example – there’s a social media everybody said you can’t make money from. And yet, one year when we held the sale for our Pearl Foundation, 70% of the money came from Facebook followers. I have to believe that if you do as I’ve done; if you don’t accept advertising on your page, if you don’t bother people, if you just present yourself and have a good time, they stay with you. I have more than half a million followers to attest to that. There are a lot of potential pitfalls that I try to avoid because I really respect the people who support my work. That’s an absurd cliché, Gregg, but it’s true. I respect those people. I have a lot of gratitude toward those people.

BLADE: Do you have a feeling that they know that?

IAN: Absolutely! When I was staying after every show and signing, which I did for 30 years, I would hear that. That was very direct. The Light at the End of the Line also becomes a way for me to say, “You stuck with me when I was not a great writer. You stuck with me when I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I grew up in this fishbowl. Here’s our payoff. I am now a really good writer and singer, and here’s a love song for you.

BLADE: The last couple of years have been brutal, to say the least, and we lost many great friends and artists, including Nanci Griffith and John Prine. Would you mind saying a few words about Nanci and John?

IAN: Nanci was a very under-recognized songwriter, like Dolly Parton. And a great interpreter. She called me one day and said, “Janis, I need a Janis Ian folk song.” [Laughs] “I don’t know what that means” and she said, “Just let it roll around.” I called my friend Jon Vezner and I said, “Nanci Griffith wants a Janis Ian folk song and I have this idea for something that’ll begin ‘This old town should have burned down in 1929’,” and he said, “Fantastic! I’ll be over tomorrow morning.” That’s how Nanci operated. She left you to do what you do. John’s death really took me aback. It hit me very hard. It’s not that we were that close, but I had known John since we’re both in our early 20s. We had seen each other at the Cambridge Folk Festival a little short while before, or it felt like a short while before. “Better Times Will Come” literally grew out of that. I was in our house, in the garage doing laundry, thinking about John. “Better times will come” started running through my head. I wrote it, basically, because John died. I’m not sure what I would have written without that. Somebody once said to me, “You will never be able to write a three-chord song.” Gregg, this is literally the only three-chord song I have written in my life. I have to think that on some level, without getting weird about it, John was out there encouraging it. He was the king of simplicity. John was simple and direct in a way that very few of us ever get to be. (He’s) sorely missed.

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Music & Concerts

64th Annual Grammy Awards rescheduled to April

Trevor Noah, Comedy Central’s Emmy® Award-winning “The Daily Show” host will return as master of ceremonies for Music’s Biggest Night®

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Graphic by the Recording Academy®

SANTA MONICA – The 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards® have been rescheduled and will now broadcast live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sun, April 3 (8-11:30 p.m., live ET/5-8:30 p.m., live PT) on the CBS Television Network and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

Trevor Noah, Comedy Central’s Emmy® Award-winning “The Daily Show” host and comedian, will return as master of ceremonies for Music’s Biggest Night®. The show moved from its original date of Jan. 31 amid growing concerns surrounding the Omicron variant. News of the rescheduled date was initially shared via a joint announcement from the Recording Academy®, CBS and CMT.

With THE 64TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS shifting airdates, the CMT MUSIC AWARDS, country music’s only entirely fan-voted award show, will move from its originally scheduled date of Sunday, April 3 to a later date in April.

Information about the date and location of the awards show will be announced in the coming weeks. This will be the inaugural broadcast of the CMT MUSIC AWARDS on the CBS Television Network. The show will also be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+*.

Additional details about the dates and locations of other official GRAMMY® Week events, including the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony®, MusiCares® Person of the Year and the Pre-GRAMMY® Gala will be announced soon.

The 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards are produced by Fulwell 73 Productions for the Recording Academy.

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