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Black Catholic connections aplenty at the 2023 Grammys

Beyoncé, Aaron Neville, Lil' Wayne, and LL Cool J, just to name a few.

Beyoncé and LL Cool J at the 2023 Grammy Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles. (Emma McIntyre, Getty Images/Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles Times)

Music’s biggest night took center stage on Sunday night in Los Angeles, with the 65th Annual Grammy Awards showering highest honors on more than a few Black artists from around the country—in some ways reversing a negative racial trend many viewers had bemoaned in previous years. Many of the recipients also had Catholic connections, which should perhaps come as no surprise.

The crossover queen Beyoncé—whose newest album “Renaissance” dominated the year-end charts for 2022 and received more Grammy nominations than any other—helped her make history with four wins on the night (Best Dance/Electronic Album, Best Dance/Electronic Recording, Best Traditional R&B Performance, and Best R&B Song). The Catholic-baptized songstress is now the most decorated artist in Grammy history, with 32 wins across a wide variety of genre categories.

The Black Catholic presence at the show started even before the live festivities began, however, with the Grammy Special Merit Awards being handed out on Saturday night in an intimate ceremony at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre.

There, the Recording Academy honored the late jazz family patriarch Ellis Marsalis Jr. with the Trustees Award, accepted by his youngest son Jason and granddaughter Marley, both of whom are also musicians. Ellis, a Black Catholic New Orleans native who died from COVID-19 in early 2020, was never awarded a Grammy during his lifetime.

Nile Rodgers Jr., the famed guitarist, songwriter, and co-founder of the band CHIC, received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the ceremony, the first of his honors on the night. During the main show, he received a Grammy for Best R&B Song, having been one of several co-writers on Beyoncé’s “CUFF IT.”

It was the first competitive Grammy win for the Catholic-raised Rodgers since 2014, when he received three awards for his work with French electronica duo Daft Punk on their album “Random Access Memories” and smash single “Get Lucky.” (Rodgers’ 1979 chart-topper “Good Times” was sampled on Daft Punk’s first international hit “Around the World” in 1997.)

New Orleans was also well represented during the Grammys live show, with the gripping music culture documentary “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” receiving accolades for its star-studded soundtrack cut “Stompin’ Ground.” The song won for Best American Roots Performance, the first win for lead singer Aaron Neville since 1999 and the first ever for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

Neville and various other Black Catholic musicians (including the Marsalis family) were also featured in another New Orleans music doc, “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story,” which won the Grammy for Best Music Film. Notably, it was the only nominee in the category that wasn’t an adaptation of a live performance or tour.

The Crescent City’s Lil’ Wayne, a practicing Catholic who extended a relatively lengthy Grammys drought, performed this year on stage with Muslim rapper (and fellow New Orleanian) DJ Khaled, whose collaboration “God Did” was up for an award in multiple categories. In 2021, Wayne famously lamented his lack of substantial recognition for the previous year’s album “Funeral,” which was nominated only for “Best Recording Package.”

Arguably the highlight of this year’s live show was an iconic montage performance celebrating 50 years of hip-hop, featuring dozens of artists led by LL Cool J, the Catholic-raised emcee from New York City. Another co-religionist in the lineup was Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC, which was nominated once for a Grammy in 1987 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

For Best Regional Roots Music Album, the Gullah Geechee revival ensemble Ranky Tanky took home a trophy for “Live At The 2022 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival,” their second win in the category. Their bassist, Kevin Hamilton, has noted that he was raised in the faith. So, too, was Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Afro-descended Puerto Rican maestro who took home two Grammys for his work on the soundtrack for the 2021 Disney film “Encanto.”

In all, Black artists from all stripes triumphed across the board in this year’s Grammy showing, though the more obvious picks still lost out to White artists in half of the “Big Four” categories. “Just Like That” by Bonnie Raitt won Song of the Year over Beyonce’s “BREAK MY SOUL,” while Harry Styles’ “Harry’s House” took home Album of the Year.

Check out the full list of 2023 Grammy Winners here.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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