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15 Great Grammy Tribute Performances

From Springsteen singing Strummer to Bruno Mars honoring Bob Marley, revisit classic performances from past ceremonies

Best Grammy Tributes; Springsteen; Costello

Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello perform "London Calling" in tribute to the late Joe Strummer.

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While celebrating current pop achievements is a huge part of the Grammy mission, the ceremonies themselves always devote plenty of time to honoring past glories. Even by Grammys standards, the 2016 show will be unusually tribute-heavy, with various artists memorializing the many icons we’ve lost during the past year. Lady Gaga will pay tribute to David Bowie with a medley of the Starman’s songs in a segment directed by Nile Rodgers; late Motörhead leader Lemmy Kilmister will get a suitably loud sendoff from the Hollywood Vampires; Gary Clark Jr. will lead a bluesy farewell to B.B. King; and the surviving Eagles will team with Jackson Browne for what’s sure to be a stirring Glenn Frey homage. 

In anticipation of these performances, we look back at some of the most memorable Grammy tributes from years past.

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Tribute to Etta James (2012)

Bonnie Raitt and Alicia Keys

Whitney Houston was, understandably, on the mind of every artist inside the Staples Center on the night of the 54th awards show. But as Bonnie Raitt stated at the beginning of her performance with Alicia Keys, "We also love another of the great ladies of music who we lost this year — the one and only Etta James." The two then unspooled a sultry version of one of James' signature tunes, "A Sunday Kind of Love." And, clearly, love was all around: "We love you, Etta. We love you, Whitney. We'll never forget you," the two said from the stage afterwards.

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Tribute to Levon Helm (2013)

With Elton John, Zac Brown, Brittany Howard, Mumford & Sons, Mavis Staples and T Bone Burnett

The diverse clutch of artists that gathered onstage at the 55th awards show to pay tribute to late Band drummer and sometime singer Levon Helm — as well as other musicians that passed that year — was an apt reflection of the ridiculously broad stylistic reach and wide-ranging influence of the Canadian-American outfit. From a British singer-songwriter piano great (Elton John) to a group of young Brits who often sound like old-timey Americans (Mumford & Sons), a black American r&b and gospel legend (Mavis Staples) to a new-school country star (Zac Brown), the stage was packed with talent that spanned generations and genres. The whole thing was rounded out by producer and musician T Bone Burnett on acoustic guitar and Alabama Shakes vocalist Brittany Howard, the latter of whom stole the show with a powerhouse performance on the song's fourth verse.

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Tribute to Bob Marley (2013)

With Bruno Mars, Sting, Rihanna, Ziggy Marley and Damian Marley

The Bob Marley tribute at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards started out conspicuously, well, Marley-less, with pop-soul revivalist Bruno Mars offering up an energetic performance of his Police-sounding hit, “Locked Out of Heaven.” Halfway through, Mars was joined by the head Police man himself, Sting, who then took over the reins for a run-through of his own “Walking on the Moon” — which at least sounds like a reggae song. Things finally got appropriately Marley-fied for the grand finale, with Bob’s sons Ziggy and Damian, along with island girl Rihanna, joining the crew for a euphoric “Could You Be Loved,” the entire stage bathed in red, green and yellow lights.

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Tribute to Phil Everly (2014)

With Billie Joe Armstrong and Miranda Lambert

The Everly Brothers’ close vocal harmonies were a crucial ingredient in early rock and roll. Their angelic blend influenced everyone from the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Simon & Garfunkel, all the way through Billie Joe Armstrong. The Green Day front man recorded a cover album, Foreverly, with Norah Jones just prior to Phil Everly’s death on January 3rd, 2014. At the 56th Grammys a month later, he performed an intimate acoustic duet alongside country star Miranda Lambert. Although the two were an unlikely pairing, their voices weaved together flawlessly on the Everlys’ 1960 tune “When Will I Be Loved.”

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