The Grammy Museum, Los Angeles, USA: Where to see America's best music legends

It's hard to believe, but it's been more than 35 years since Michael Jackson stunned the world with ground-breaking videos and amazing choreography to accompany his record-breaking album,Thriller. Seven of the nine tracks on the 1982 album became hit singles, including Billy Jean and Beat It, and even now it remains the world's best-selling album – almost 50 million copies have been sold. While he was on tour promoting Thriller, Jackson first astonished the world with his Moonwalk.

Jackson died at his home in the Holmby Hills above Los Angeles in June 2009, on the eve of a comeback – a series of gruelling concerts at London's huge O2 Arena. Right now, however, I'm watching him in his prime at the Grammy Museum in downtown LA. All of Jackson's classic video performances are here, alongside some of the elaborate costumes he wore. There's the jewelled glove he sported while performing the Moonwalk. Next to it is  the red leather jacket he donned in the Thriller video.

Perhaps most moving of all is the typewritten letter from legendary musician/producer Quincy Jones, politely requesting every superstar invited to perform We Are The World, the song written by Jackson and Lionel Ritchie for Live Aid, to turn up on time and "leave your egos at the door".

Elvis, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Prince, Beyonce and Katy Perry are all honoured at the Grammy Museum at LA Live, usually in their particular musical genre, but only "the King of Pop" (a title apparently coined by Jackson's best friend, Elizabeth Taylor), has his own permanent display.

The four-storey Grammy Museum, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is a musical treasure trove that just keeps getting better.

It hosts an ever-changing series of temporary exhibitions which, at the time of my visit, were devoted to John Coltrane, the late jazz saxophonist and composer, and John Lee Hooker, the late blues singer, songwriter and guitarist.

The permanent displays and interactive exhibits, however, are more than enough. I could have spent the entire day here.

A visit to the museum is a journey through centuries of American music, beginning with the slave trade and ending (so far) with Kendrick Lamar. Yes, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are mentioned, and the classical section pays homage to composers born in countries on the other side of the Atlantic, but this museum (like the Grammys) is really all about the musical forms the US has contributed to popular culture. We're talking Aretha and gospel, James Brown and soul, Satchmo and jazz, Hendrix and electric guitar, Pete Seeger and the folk movement, plus the Latin Americans from Ritchie Valens and La Bamba onwards. There's also Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, BB King, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Chuck Berry and Whitney Houston, whose glittering stage costumes were some of the more restrained.

Visitors to the museum get to see fantastic performances, hear amazing music and re-live past memories.

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My favourite part is the Song Writers Hall of Fame. By complete coincidence, an ageing Don McLean is singing a live version of American Pie on video loop when I enter. He doesn't need to remember the lyrics because the entire audience can recite them.

The Song Writers Hall of Fame also contains handwritten lyrics by unlikely neighbours. Bob Dylan's lyrics to Gates of Eden (1964) are unexpectedly neat, though Johnny Rotten's words for the Sex Pistols 1976 hit God Save The Queen are even neater. Fortunately, there's always Tom Waits to keep up the rock 'n' roll mystique. His handwriting is utterly illegible.

TRIP NOTES

Steve Meacham was a guest of the Grammy Museum and The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

MORE

traveller.com.au/los-angeles

grammymuseum.org

discoverlosangeles.com

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Rooms at The Hollywood Roosevelt, popular with rock stars who have appeared at the nearby Hollywood Bowl, start from about $US300. See thehollywoodroosevelt.com

 

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