From Joni Mitchell to Drake: the biggest Canadian moments in Grammy Award history

Surprise wins, Lifetime Achievement awards, a speech cut short and more.

Surprise wins, Lifetime Achievement awards, a speech cut short and more

Canadians who have won Grammy Awards over the years, from left: Drake, Céline Dion and Nelly Furtado. (All Getty Images, graphic by CBC)

The Grammy Awards originated in the U.S., but its recipients come from all over the world. Since its inception in 1959, many Canadians have been acknowledged, from iconic singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young to current chart-toppers like Justin Bieber and Drake. 

Ahead of this year's Grammy Awards, where Drake, Shawn Mendes and Jessie Reyez are all nominated, we want to take a look back at the biggest Canadian moments in Grammys history. 

What is your favourite Canadian Grammy moment? Share with us @CBCMusic.

Joni Mitchell wins her first Grammy (1969)


Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell's second studio album, Clouds, earned the Canadian musician her first Grammy Award for best folk performance. That album would also go on to become Mitchell's first release to be certified gold in the U.S., peaking at No. 31 on the Billboard 200 charts. Mitchell has seven other Grammy Awards to her name, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, which she accepted in 2002. 

Céline Dion brings a Disney classic to the Grammys (1993)

Pop icon Céline Dion was a decade into her career by the time she scored her first Grammy nomination for her work on the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack (as well as her 1992 self-titled album). Her debut on the Grammy stage was a performance of the theme song for the Disney classic, alongside duet partner Peabo Bryson. Together, they won best pop performance by a duo or group with vocals. Years later, Dion picked up two more Grammy nominations for another blockbuster soundtrack entry: "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic.   

David Foster and Whitney Houston win record of the year (1994)

Superstar producer David Foster has 16 Grammy Awards to his name, and is tied with audio engineer Serban Ghenea as the Canadian with the most wins. While his first win was for Earth, Wind & Fire's "After the Love Has Gone" in 1980, Foster's biggest winning streak didn't hit until the '90s: he took home record and album of the year in 1992 for his work with Natalie Cole, and another Grammy in 1994 for The Bodyguard soundtrack and its breakout hit, Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You." (The Bodyguard soundtrack remains the best-selling soundtrack of all time.) 

When record of the year was announced, Foster was visibly excited as he ran onstage and eventually greeted a shrieking Houston, who rushed to join him. "I don't know what I did to be up here because it was all done for me," he said earnestly, after naming everyone involved in the making of the song. Houston joked afterwards that Foster had already thanked "everybody that I know," but made it back to the mic before being ushered off to thank her then husband, Bobby Brown. 

Alanis Morissette takes home 4 awards (1996) 

Alanis Morissette was nominated for a staggering six Grammys in 1996 and took home four awards: album of the year, best female rock vocal performance, best rock song and best rock album. To cap it all off, Morissette gave an incredible performance of her Jagged Little Pill hit, "You Oughta Know," accompanied by a string section. 

Nelly Furtado's 'highly unexpected' win (2002) 

This year will mark the 20th anniversary of Nelly Furtado's debut album, Whoa, Nelly!. This release not only put the Canadian singer-songwriter on the map, but it also earned Furtado her first and only Grammy Award for best female pop vocal performance. When her name was announced, Furtado got onstage for what she called a "highly unexpected" win. She capped off her quick speech with a delightful send-off: "I had fun writing this so, woo!" 

Northern Cree bring Indigenous representation to the Grammys (2002)

Alberta's Indigenous drum and singing group Northern Cree has won numerous Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, Aboriginal Peoples' Music Choice Awards and Nammys (Native American Music Awards). But the one title that they're still missing is a coveted Grammy Award. Northern Cree has been zero for eight at the Grammys (their first nomination was in 2002 for Rockin' the Rez), but co-founder Steve Wood noted how important being acknowledged on a big platform like that over the years can also be. "If you look at the positives, it's giving us an opportunity to get recognition for our music." he told the Canadian Press recently. "We're representing First Nations people across North America, but we are also representing the Canadian public. That's why we're going to do the best that we can, always." 

James Ehnes takes home his first Grammy (2008) 

James Ehnes is the most decorated classical musician in Juno Awards history with 26 nominations and 11 wins, but his Grammy-winning record is equally impressive. While he's only been up for two awards, he is two for two, winning best instrumental soloist(s) performance (with orchestra) in 2007 for Barber/Korngold/Walton: Violin Concertos and again in 2019 in the best classical instrumental solo category for Kernis: Violin Concerto. After his first win, Ehnes told NPR that getting recognition for a CD was amusing because something "I taped several years ago ... I mean, it's a very funny feeling, because this award happened for something [where] I think, 'Well, I've done so much since then.'" 

Leonard Cohen honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award (2010) 

Only six Canadians have received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award: Oscar Peterson, Glenn Gould, the Band, Joni Mitchell, George Beverly Shea and Leonard Cohen. Cohen's 2010 win was actually his first Grammy Award ever, something that he noted in his acceptance speech: "I never thought I'd get a Grammy Award. In fact, I was always touched by the modesty of their interest in my work." Cohen won his second Grammy, a year after his death, in 2016 for best rock performance for his album You Want it Darker

Arcade Fire's The Suburbs wins album of the year (2011)

Barbara Streisand's hesitant tone said it all: Arcade Fire's 2011 album of the year win for its third album, The Suburbs, was a complete surprise to everyone, including the Montreal band. "What the hell," leader Win Butler said immediately, after beating out fellow nominees Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Eminem and Lady Antebellum. The win sparked confusion among viewers who were unfamiliar with the band, even inspiring the creation of a Tumblr account that gathered responses from media outlets and music fans alike asking the question: "Who is Arcade Fire?

Justin Bieber finally gets his first Grammy (2016) 

In 2011, a fresh-faced Justin Bieber was up for two Grammy Awards: best pop vocal album for My World 2.0 and best new artist. Bieber ended up empty-handed that year, notably losing out on best new artist to "surprise winner," jazz musician Esperanza Spalding. But Bieber would nab another eight nominations in subsequent years (three of them were for his feature appearance on the Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee hit "Despacito"), including his first and only win to date for best dance recording for his 2015 Skrillex and Diplo collaboration, "Where Are U Now." In 2016, Bieber and co. transformed the track for the Grammys broadcast, trading in heavy electronic production for live rock instrumentation. 

Barbara Hannigan's double duty earns her 1 big win (2018)

Canadian soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan got her first Grammy nomination and win in 2018 for best classical solo vocal album. The winning project was Crazy Girl Crazy, an album that showcased her work as both a soprano and conductor with the Amsterdam-based orchestra, Ludwig. In an interview with CBC Music, Hannigan joked that her double duties must've confused Grammy voters at first: "They chose best vocalist but, by the way, I'm also conducting the album but they don't have a category for a person who conducts their own album!" 

Alessia Cara makes Grammy history (2018) 

Brampton, Ont., artist Alessia Cara made history as the first Canadian artist to ever win best new artist. Stunned by the win, Cara gave a heartfelt speech that encouraged "everyone to support real music and real artists because everyone deserves the same shot." But, unfortunately, Cara's win was overshadowed by Twitter detractors who were upset that the pop star beat out fellow nominees SZA, Julia Michaels, Khalid and Lil Uzi Vert. Cara addressed the negativity on social media shortly after, telling her followers: "I am not going to be upset about something I've wanted since I was a kid not to mention worked really hard for." 

Drake gives advice to young artists, says you don't need awards to be a winner — and then gets cut off (2019) 

Drake has had a complicated history with the Grammy Awards. In 2016, the Toronto rapper took home two trophies for his single "Hotline Bling": best rap/sung performance and best rap song. But Drake wasn't happy with that distinction, noting in an interview with Beats 1 later that "'Hotline Bling' is not a rap song. The only category that they can manage to fit me in is a rap category, maybe because I've rapped in the past or because I'm Black." 

Two years later, Drake returned to the Grammys to pick up best rap song once again for "God's Plan," but he had a message for young artists striving for awards recognition: "You've already won if you have people who are singing your songs word-for-word.... You don't need this right here, I promise you, you already won." Then, just as Drake followed up with a "but," he was immediately cut off by the broadcast. While some assumed that this was done maliciously because Drake's speech undervalued the importance of the Grammys, a representative later clarified to Variety that they simply thought he had completed his speech due to a pause Drake took. 


  • A previous version of this article included a video of a group performing on the Grammys red carpet. It was credited as Northern Cree, but it was Young Spirit. It has been removed.
    Jan 25, 2020 12:00 AM ET


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