The winners at last night’s 61st Grammy Awards included bold-faced names such as Cardi B, Kendrick Lamar, and Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Also among them was avant-garde visual artist, filmmaker, writer, composer, and musician Laurie Anderson, who won the award for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance for Landfall, a collaboration with Kronos Quartet from Nonesuch Records.
The album, which blends electronic and traditional string music, is inspired by Hurricane Sandy, which devastated much of New York City in the fall of 2012. When the storm flooded Anderson’s Canal Street studio, she lost the entirety of her personal archive, artworks, instruments, and papers, among other personal effects that had been in storage for decades.
“We were planning to spend a cozy evening watching the storm,” Anderson told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “You had to be there, watching the river almost become alive. To see it rise, and sparkle in the moonlight, was truly awesome. It was powerful and beautiful.” But then came the aftermath.
“My archives… had turned into oatmeal. My first reaction was absolute devastation,” she admitted. That sensation soon turned to one of relief: “It reminded me I still have way too many things. I need to be simpler. I was feeling weighted down by all this stuff.”
The experience was also the basis for her 2018 book, Laurie Anderson: All the Things I Lost in the Flood, published by Rizzoli Electa. Other recent projects have included an ongoing interdisciplinary installation at MASS MoCA and the 2015 documentary Heart of a Dog, which was shortlisted for an Oscar for best documentary and inspired an offbeat concert for dogs. (If you wanted to put money on which visual artist is most likely to win an EGOT, Anderson would be a good bet.)
This year’s Grammys marked the fourth time Anderson had been nominated, with her first nod coming way back in 1984 for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals on the song “Gravity’s Angel.” She was also nominated for Best Alternative Music Performance for her album Strange Angels in 1990 and Best Pop Instrumental Performance for her song “Flow” in 2010.
In 2008, Anderson married Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed, who died in 2013. With last night’s win, she matched the music legend’s Grammy total, as Reed’s sole honor from the Recording Academy came with a 1998 Best Long Form Music Video award.
The evening’s biggest winners, with four Grammys apiece, were country singer Kacey Musgraves and Childish Gambino, whose history-making wins saw rap music take song and record of the year for the first time.
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