The History of the Best Musical Theater Album Grammy Award

By: Jan. 26, 2020
The History of the Best Musical Theater Album Grammy Award

Theater fans tend to highlight certain events throughout the year, moments where the work being produced in theaters, mostly on Broadway, has a chance to shine and become known to greater audiences. The Tony Awards in June and the Thanksgiving Day Parades in November usually draw the most attention, but the Grammy Awards each winter also brings this pleasure to theater fans.

Since 1959, The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (now The Recording Academy) has been presenting Grammy Awards "honor excellence in the performance(s) in and production of musical theater recordings." The award itself has undergone several minor name changes and guideline updates, but the high standard has stayed the same.

Meredith Willson was the first person to win the Best Original Cast Album (Broadway or TV) award for his work The Music Man and the cast album featuring Robert Preston, Barbara Cook, David Burns, Eddie Hodges, Pert Kelton and Helen Raymond. Originally, the award was given to the album's producer and the musical's composer and lyricist, as long as they had written at least 51 percent of the music and they had not previously recorded it.

The next year the award was presented as the Best Broadway Show Album before changing to the Best Show Album (Original Cast) in 1961. In 1962 it was changed yet again to the Best Original Cast Show Album before switching to the Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album in 1964. The name of the award underwent several minor name changes in the years to come but has been the Best Musical Theater Album since 2012.

"It was determined that new name for it would be a more accurate description of appropriate entries here and may help to encourage entries from non-Broadway musical theater production recordings," an explanation for the category restructuring stated.

Also in 2012, the award was given an updated definition and guidelines. In order for a principal vocalist(s) to win the award alongside the album producer, they need a "significant contributing performance." Lyricist(s) and composer(s) of new pieces are eligible for the award if their work takes up 51 percent or more playing time on the album.

It is noted "this category is for recordings of the score of a musical theater work created to support an underlying dramatic intention or theme," meaning the piece is judged solely on its album and not the stage production.

Since 2001, the engineer/mixer of the winning album also takes home an award, with the first recipient being Frank Filipetti for his work on the cast recording for Elton John & Tim Rice's Aida.

Over the years, some musicals have been nominated multiple times with several winning more than once. The most nominated musicals in the category are Gypsy and West Side Story, which each garnered four nominations. Gypsy tied with Redhead at the second Grammy Awards in 1960 and won again in 2004, earning two more nominations in 1991 and 2009. West Side Story won in 1986 and 2010, with two more recordings getting nominations in 2008 and 2015. Also receiving this award twice is Les Misérables, winning the two times it was nominated in 1988 and 1991.

In terms of individuals with the most wins in this category, it is tied between Thomas Z. Shepard and Stephen Sondheim, each with six wins. The duo has won several for the same musical, with Sondheim as the composer and Shepard as the producer including Company in 1971, Sweeney Todd in 1980 and Sunday in the Park with George in 1985. Shepard also won for producing Raisin in 1975, Ain't Misbehavin' in 1979 and Follies in Concert in 1987. Sondheim collected the award for A Little Night Music in 1974, Into the Woods in 1989 and Passion in 1995.

Stay tuned for the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards this weekend to find out which cast album will be added to the list of Best Musical Theater Album winners!