The day after, Bonnie Raitt’s stunning Grammy Awards triumph lingers

“So who is Bonnie Raitt?” read the first sentence of a headline on the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper website this morning.

You wouldn’t have known from the shocked reaction throughout the music world – and especially throughout England, where they seemed to take it personally that Harry Styles didn’t take home every award he was eligible for – that Raitt isn’t exactly some wannabe newbie. Pretty much the precise opposite, in fact. She’s a living legend, one of the most respected and decorated makers of music of all time. More on that in a moment.

But first…it speaks to both the depth of the surprise and the utter graciousness of Raitt that she was so utterly stunned by her Grammy Awards victory Sunday night for Song of the Year, which was truly astonishing when you consider that her tune “Just Like That” had to beat out no less than Styles (“As It Was”), Beyonce (“Break My Soul”), Adele (“Easy on Me”), Taylor Swift (“All Too Well”) and Lizzo (“About Damn Time”) as well as Kendrick Lamar (“The Heart Part 5”) and Steve Lacy (“Bad Habit”).

As upsets go, it was a gigantic one, roughly the equivalent of a 50-1 longshot coming in. At the same time, it’s kind of reassuring that surprises of this magnitude can happen. It’s nice to know that these races don’t always go according to Gold Derby (or anyone else’s) form. The buzz that emerged from Raitt’s win continued to loudly reverberate the day after.

The look of complete incredulity on Raitt’s face pretty much said it all. After First Lady Dr. Jill Biden opened the envelope and made the announcement, you could actually see Raitt’s jaw visibly drop. Her second reaction was to scan the room in disbelief, as if she were somehow being punk’d, that everyone was just pulling a fast one on her. Moving gingerly toward the stage, she looked like she might faint at any moment until being handed her Grammy. Then she placed her left hand over her mouth – the most humble of gestures.

“I’m so surprised I don’t know what to say,” Raitt began her acceptance, and it was clear to everyone in the room and internationally on television and streaming that this was clearly the truth.

Still struggling to keep her composure, the singer-songwriter continued, “This is just an unreal moment. Thank you for honoring me to all the academy that surrounds me with so much support and appreciates the art of songwriting as I do. I was so inspired for this song by the incredible story of the love and the grace and the generosity of someone that donates their beloveds organs to help another person live. And the story was so simple and so beautiful for these times.”

Shifting a bit and taking a deep, cleansing, steadying intake of air, Raitt went on, “And the people have been responding to the song, partly because of how much I love and we all love John Prine. And that was the inspiration for the music for this song. And telling a story from the inside. And I thank, I just…I don’t write a lot of songs but I’m so proud that you appreciate this one and what this means for me and for the rest of the songwriters. I wouldn’t be up here tonight if it wasn’t for the art of the great soul-digging, hard-working people that put these songs and ideas to music. So I thank my team for helping me get this record out and thank you so much. I’m just totally humbled. I really appreciate it. Thank you.”

As lovely as that acceptance was, it apparently didn’t sit well with young people in particular who wondered how this 73-year-old gal could have the gall to beat their idols, someone their grandparents considered a peer. Social media erupted in Raitt Rage, though not on my feed, mind you. In my world, there was instead celebration that someone they had so much longtime love for had somehow knocked off the younger folks.

It’s difficult to recall a less expected result in a major awards show category over the past several years at least. It was a little bit like having, say, Joe Montana coming out of retirement to win a Super Bowl. At age 66. Except that isn’t really a perfect comparison, either, because while Raitt was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Grammy just last year, she didn’t exactly pack up her stuff and ride off into the sunset. No, Raitt has kept doing what she does best: making music. And here’s the thing: Sunday’s win was her 14th career Grammy. That isn’t quite Beyonce territory, but it’s not too shabby, either.

Here are a few other Bonnie Raitt factoids:

  • She was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.
  • She ranks 50th on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
  • She ranks 89th on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

So while it was a bit staggering that Raitt could upend so many current superstars in such a competitive Grammy category, the truth is that she’s the most enduring star of all and nobody’s anonymous blues crooner.

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