Bob Santelli, University alumnus and Grammy Museum Founding Executive Director, took to the stage of Pollak Theatre to give a backstage look of the logistics behind and the history of the Grammys.
Santelli, who was a member of the class of 1973, has quite the resume, considering he served as the vice president of education and public programs for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, held the title of artistic director of the Experience Music Projectspoke as part of the University’s lecture series, and is even an author of several music-inspired novels.
His visit was presented by the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music as well as the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
The alumnus was introduced by University President Grey Dimenna, Esq.; Santelli quickly captivated the audience and commanded the stage.
He told the audience that he darted to the lecture from New York City where his expertise was necessary to the planning of the renowned Grammy Awards.
Santelli’s appearance was strategically timed so that he could convey his most recent experiences and backstage insight of the 60th anniversary of the Grammys, which aired this past Sunday evening on Jan. 28, and was presented by CBS.
An average of 36 million people worldwide tune in their televisions each year to experience the magic of the Grammys in the comfort of their own living rooms.
Suprisingly, ratings took a stumble this year– a big stumble.
According to ABC News, just under 20 million had watched Sunday’s show.
Viewers in the high millions are the expected response to the biggest, most anticipated night of the year in music; apparently this year, a lump sum of those millions decided to dedicate their attention elsewhere.
Before beginning his lecture, sophomore communication student Victoria Roberts sat in her seat, eagar to hear what Santelli had to say.
“When I saw the flyer, I knew I had to come sit in the audience,” Roberts said.
“I can’t wait to hear his experiences from the entertainment industry, especially since he graduated from here. It makes it seem like my dreams are equally in reach as his were.”
The crowd hushed and Santelli’s voice took the lead.
“It’s been 15 years since the Grammys have been in New York City,” Santelli said, but turned his attention immediately when a familiar face in the crowd caught his eye.
He squinted in the direction of what stole his focus.
“I see my brother here.” He said while pointing him out with his index finger, wearing a huge smile.
“Really?” Santelli joked. “Second row, seriously? Don’t you see me enough?” The audience joined in and chuckled in unison.
The spirit of the room increased upon this action and set the tone for his lecture.
This first impression was able to reveal the relatable, humble, genuine, and charismatic qualities the man in the suit holding a microphone.
He continued back to business and regained focus.
“I am going to provide you with a primer, basically the A-B-C’s of everything Grammys,” Santelli told the crowd.
“So, when you tune in on Sunday, you will have a greater appreciation and understanding.”
Santelli began by explaining that it took a “very long time” for the award show to become “hip.”
“1958 wasn’t THAT long ago when you think about it,” he said. “During that time, people were still listening to music recordings on clunky gramophones.”
A contest was held during the very early stages of the then nameless event with a nameless award.
In hopes to find a name that made the most sense, they requested submissions from the general public.
“Some little old lady from New Orleans coined the name ‘Grammy’ inspired by the gramophone. She sealed the deal on naming the award,” Santelli said.
“She literally won, like, five bucks. And then probably a recording of a song.”
The crowd chuckled and Santelli joined in, but he reassured the audience knew he was definitely not joking.
“Now, it is the most prestigious music award,” he emphasized.
“It is prestigious enough to attach the words ‘Grammy Nominee’ to their name, even if he or she never win a Grammy.”
Santelli used the example of the late musical legend, Elvis Presley.
Presley never won a Grammy for his pop music that captivated any audience.
Instead, he was awarded for his gospel records.
Who would’ve thought?
What separates the Grammys from award shows like The American Music Awards and others similar, is the vigorous process of deciding the nominees.
The Grammys has a team composed of over 22,000 creative professionals.
Musical masters are hand selected and are installed into an organization called “The Recording Academy.”
In simpler terms, this is the organization that works extensively together to produce the groundwork for the slates of nominees for each category.
Those 22,000 individuals, each with their own area of renowned expertise, are then divided into 12 chapters depending on their location.
These chapters of The Recording Academy are widespread throughout the nation to make analytics flow as smoothly as possible.
Within these 12 groups, only about 14,000 are considered the “voters.”
They work silently, but efficiently.
“Those who decide which artist will receive nominations have to understand the creative process,” Santelli said.
“They have to be in the industry. A songwriter, a script writer, a sound engineer… It needs to be a mix.”
These are all people who would be on voting committees.
“And like all committees,” Santelli continued, “There is arguing and disagreement. There is a lot of thought and reasoning.”
Think about a group of your friends or enemies sitting in one room to discuss an award like, “Album of the Year.” Sounds like a fight waiting to happen, right?
Transitioning topics, the Alumnus adjusted his glasses and expressed his excitement about returning to the Big Apple after over a decade of the Staples Center in Los Angeles being the home to the last 15 shows in a row.
Santelli shared with the crowd that he only had two minor complaints about relocating for the 2018 show.
“Madison Square Garden does’t have a coat check,” he said.
“And as we all know, the weather on this coast is unpredictable. The chances of snow are large, which calls for obvious concern for our guests.”
Santelli went on to explain that the portion of the Grammys that airs on TV is only a small portion of the musical event compared to its totality.
“There’s a pre-show to award other industry professionals.”
“In reality, that’s an insane amount of time for women to be in their high heels, guests to be carrying their coats around, and when snow is added to the mix, it just adds extra stress to all of us.”
Speaking of stress, in addition to a risky change in location, every four years the Grammys is pushed up two weeks due to the broadcasting of the Winter Olympics, who have priority over the show; this was the case for this year’s event.
This was one of the handful of years that had to sacrifice two very crucial weeks of planning. It may seem dramatic, but every second counts to ensure a seemless night of entertainment and celebration.
“Currently, we are still running over time by three minutes and six seconds,” Santelli explained.
“The next step is working through the script and seeing what words we can drop until we cut it down, second by second.
Santelli ended his lecture with a 20 minute compilation of “Grammy Moments” video clips.
A Grammy Moment can be described as an occurance you will usually only be able to witness on the Grammy stage.
A moment that sticks out to Santelli is when Elton John and Eminem performed together and held hands concluding their duet.
It was so memorable because at that time, Eminem was known for his homophobic lyrics and open expression of hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Right before he concluded his lecture, he allowed the audience to raise their hands and ask a handful of questions.
A member of the audience asked the last question, where he requested Santelli to recall a time where an artist was supposed to perform but never came through.
Santelli pondered and reflected on the unpredictability of the Grammys.
“The main thing that comes to my mind when I hear this question is the death of Whitney Houston,” Santelli said, altering the question so he could better respond.
“The day before the 2012 Grammys, Jennifer Hudson was at rehearsal, gushing about how much she admired Whitney’s music,” he recalled. “An hour later, we received a phone call that she had passed away.”
Santelli told of Hudson’s cries of shock and sadness and somehow, under 10 hours, Jennifer Hudson was able to convert her performance to a beautifully saddening tribute to honor Houston.
Santelli transitioned this into a heartfelt “thank-you” and invited the audience members to join him for a cup of coffee in the lobby before he hopped on the last train back to NYC.
The audience erupted in applause; Monmouth is truly lucky to have an alumnus as loyal and genuine as Bob Santelli, as he greeted everyone who lined up to shake his hand, without letting on that he should have been on the train a long time ago.
PHOTOS TAKEN by Nicole Ingraffia