Grammy Producer Defends Show’s Eddie Van Halen Tribute Segment
Grammy executive producer Ben Winston defended the show's recent video salute to Eddie Van Halen, following criticism that the 2021 "In Memoriam" segment didn't devote enough time to the late guitar icon.
The Van Halen guitarist, who died in October at age 65, appeared in a 20-second vintage video clip, soloing as one of his famous striped guitars appeared onstage. Kenny Rogers, Little Richard and John Prine were the only artists to earn longer tributes — Lionel Richie, Bruno Mars and Brandi Carlile, respectively, played two minutes of each artists' music live during the segment.
Eddie's son, Wolfgang Van Halen, later revealed that he declined producers' offers to perform his father's signature guitar instrumental "Eruption" during the broadcast. “It was my understanding that there would be an ‘In Memoriam’ section where bits of songs were performed for legendary artists that had passed,” he wrote on social media. “I didn’t realize that they would only show Pop for 15 seconds in the middle of four full performances for others we had lost.”
The musician added, “What hurt the most was that he wasn’t even mentioned when they talked about artists we lost in the beginning of the show. I know rock isn’t the most popular genre right now (and the academy does seem a bit out of touch), but I think it’s impossible to ignore the legacy my father left on the instrument, the world of rock and music in general. There will never be another innovator like him.”
Winston responded to the feedback in a recent Variety interview, saying he suggested "eight or nine guitarists" for a potential tribute to Wolfgang's representatives, but the rocker declined. "Instead, he felt like we should play a video of Eddie himself, because nobody could play like him, so that’s what we did," he said. "I would have loved for it to be longer than it was, but Eddie was the only person in the whole 'In Memoriam' to play their own music, with no other faces being seen. I felt that was an appropriate tribute to him, but if Wolfgang didn’t, I’m sorry about that, of course — it’s such a horrific thing to lose a parent. We did the best that we felt we could." (Note: Winston's original quote to Variety stated he had spoken directly with Wolfgang Van Halen, however it was later clarified that he spoke with a representative. The quote above has been corrected to reflect this change.)
The producer also commented on the "In Memoriam" segment as a whole, saying he feels the tribute "really resonated with people."
"We had the idea for it for a long time, because I thought it was great that we could go from Little Richard to Kenny Rogers to John Prine, and it could be brilliant musicians playing for each other," he said. "The regret I have is that I think 970 names were submitted for “In Memoriam” this year, and you can only put … usually it’s 35 to 45, and this year we did 60. I wish we could have done more."
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