Grammys heed the voice of experience

What do Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, Etta James, Solomon Burke, B.B. King, and the Temptations all have in common, besides AARP cards?

They all are Grammy nominees, yes - this year. And not for oldies compilations, but for new, vital recordings. On their way to these honors, the musicians have hurdled disco, punk, big hair bands, and techno. A hearty handful - such as King, James, and Bennett - have been popular for a half-century, all without compromising their uniqueness as artists. Remember B.B. King's disco album? Of course not; he never stooped to that (although he looks smooth in a white suit and vest). Five have records in the prestigious Grammy Hall of Fame, and all are still recording and touring.

• Take R&B belter Etta James. In 1955, at 15 years old, she rocked America's socks with "Good Rockin' Daddy," followed by her megahit and Hall of Fame recording "At Last" in 1961. After decades of playing seedy dives and juke joints and fighting substance abuse, she triumphantly surfaced with a Grammy for her Billie Holiday tribute album "Mystery Lady" in 1995. This year, she's garnered a Best Contemporary Blues Album for her blistering "Burnin' Down the House," captured live at L.A.'s House of Blues.

• The ageless Tony Bennett has been making great records since the early 1950s, and, now in his 70s, seems as vibrant and connected to contemporary music as ever. From his first smash "Cold, Cold Heart" in 1951 to his signature tune " I Left My Heart in San Francisco" in 1962, to his modern-day collaborations with pop stars like Elvis Costello and Sheryl Crow, his career has been a study in elegance, integrity, and class. This year's Grammy-nominated duet is with torch singer k.d. lang, who scored a Grammy for her duet with Roy Orbison on "Crying" in 1988.

• The real comeback story of this year's Grammys is classic soul singer Solomon Burke. "King" Solomon's early '60s R&B hits such as "Cry to Me" and "Just Out of Reach" never quite broke into the pop charts, but the gospel-flavored vocals of this Philadelphia preacher ranks him alongside Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin. His Grammy-nominated comeback CD "Don't Give Up on Me" features songs written for him by admirers like Tom Waits, Costello, and Van Morrison.

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