If you’ve never heard of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, you can be forgiven.
It opened only two years ago (December 2008) and not coincidentally on the 50th anniversary of the Grammy Awards. The word is still spreading about this state-of-the-art, interactive venue that visitors of all ages will enjoy. The museum not only pays homage to the Grammy Award but has fascinating artifacts and traveling and temporary exhibits.
Be prepared for lots to see and do, with an emphasis on the “do.” Most notable about this museum are its interactive exhibits that
capture your interest and imagination, and immerse you in the art and science of making music.
“‘Museum’ is a bit of a misnomer,” explained Executive Director Robert Santelli during a phone interview. “It’s not just about the history of the Grammy Awards and those who got them. It’s much more than that. We try to democratize artistic excellence and do it in such a way that you can intimately understand the complexities of creating great music. The experience is designed to get you thinking about the music that shapes your life.”
Although counter-intuitive, start on the fourth floor and work your way down.
My husband, Jerry, and cousins Jim and Sharlene couldn’t get enough of the 17-foot-long touch-screen light table that allowed us to delve into the history of nearly 200 types of music. Pick any one and you’ll get a written explanation while the music of that genre plays into your headphone. The whole exercise is unending; you just keep choosing and following the evolution of the music until someone drags you away. There also are many more exhibits to see before you leave the top floor.
On the third floor, eight kiosks await to show you the production side of making a recording. Visitors can try their hands at all of the aspects of creating a hit song, and each step is coached by well known, Grammy-winning producers, engineers and recording artists. The touch screens allow you to become a background vocalist, an engineer and many other roles. But we got so involved in two of the booths that we never tried the others.
You must visit the museum soon to catch the “Strange Kosmic Experience” exhibit that focuses on Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. My favorite artifact here is the psychedelically painted 1965 Porsche Cabriolet that belonged to Joplin. It’s difficult to imagine suffering depression and owning or driving such a car.
On display through March 31 is the “John Lennon, Songwriter” exhibit, assembled by the former Beatle’s wife, Yoko Ono. She contacted Santelli to inquire whether the museum would like to exhibit Lennon’s personal effects and papers to mark the 40th anniversary of his death and the 70th of his birth.
“She had heard good things about our museum and asked me to show her around,” Santelli said. “She said if we could come up with a unique approach to John Lennon to celebrate his birth and death, she would give us the objects. I came up with idea of looking at John from particular point of view — as one of the great songwriters of 20th century.”
The exhibit includes guitars that belonged to Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly as well as Lennon; handwritten lyrics; early albums; the ex-Beatle’s typewriter; his British health system-issued glasses; rare video footage (including an excellent extended clip of Dick Cavett interviewing a 30-year-old Lennon and more.
Lest you think it’s all about rock ‘n’ roll, know that the museum features many genres of music and the people who made them great, including opera (you can’t miss Luciano Pavarotti’s commodious formal ensemble mounted on the wall), classical, jazz, blues, Latin, country — well, the list goes on. And there are interactive exhibits at every turn.
Plan a minimum of two hours and get ready to engage. The Grammy Museum is near the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Figueroa Street and is part of the entertainment complex L.A. Live, across from the Staples Center. Park a block or two away for $5 to $7/day rates.
For more information, visit www.grammymuseum.org.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.