How the GRAMMY® Got its Name From Louisiana

Why is it called a GRAMMY®? A New Orleans secretary won the contest to name music’s top prize.

Should you ever doubt Louisiana’s undeniable contribution to the world of music, remember that even the GRAMMY® got its name thanks to someone from Louisiana.

The Recording Academy awarded its first “Gramophone Awards” back in 1958 to honor the music industry’s best artists and performances of the previous year. But soon after that ceremony, they launched a nationwide contest asking Americans to come up with a better name for the trophies that were handed out.

New Orleans secretary Rosejay “Jay” Elizabeth Danna was one of many people who submitted entries suggesting the name “GRAMMY" — based on the trophy being a small replica gramophone on which old records were played — but hers was the first one received in the mail, making her the contest winner.

Danna received 25 LPs as a thank-you gift from The Recording Academy®. And a page in music and Louisiana history, too. Danna later became an executive secretary for the New Orleans Public Service and died in 2014.

Louisiana GRAMMY® Firsts

With so many music styles so deeply rooted in Louisiana, it’s no surprise that artists here have claimed their fair share of GRAMMY® Awards through the years. Here’s just a quick look of some Louisiana GRAMMY® firsts.

  • In 1959, Louis Prima (Best Performance by a Vocal Group for “That Old Black Magic”) and Van Cliburn (Best Classical Performance for Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1”) became the first Louisiana artists to win GRAMMY®s at the academy’s inaugural awards ceremony.
  • Three years later in 1961, the “Queen of Gospel” herself – Mahalia Jackson – became the first woman from Louisiana to earn a GRAMMY® for “Everytime I Feel the Spirit.” In 1962, she went on to win again in the Best Gospel or Other Religious Recording group with her album "Great Songs of Love and Faith."
  • In 1966, David Houston was the state’s first country artist to score GRAMMY® gold, with four nominations and two wins for “Almost Persuaded.”
  • Louis Armstrong was posthumously awarded GRAMMY®’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1972 and earned his first induction into the GRAMMY® Hall of Fame in 1975 with the song "West End Blues". But it wouldn’t be his last; the jazz legend has a whopping 17 works in the Hall of Fame including "Star Dust", "Hello, Dolly!", "St. Louis Blues", "Heebie Jeebies" and more.
  • Louisiana artists were nominated for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording every year from 1978 through 1985, when Rockin’ Sidney became the first state musician to claim that GRAMMY® for “My Toot Toot.”
  • In 1995, New Orleans native B.J. Crosby snagged the state’s first win for Best Musical Show Album for “Smokey Joe’s Café.”
  • Record producer Cosimo Matassa won Louisiana’s first GRAMMY® Trustees Award in 2007. His French Quarter studio, J&M Recordings, was the site of many touchstone recordings, including those by Little Richard, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, Dr. John and more.
  • In 2008, Louisiana’s Terrance Simien took home the first-ever GRAMMY® in the short-lived Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album category. Although that category was eliminated four years later, Louisiana artists won it every year during its existence: BeauSoleil with Michael Doucet in 2009, Buckwheat Zydeco in 2010 and Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band in 2011.

Learn more about Louisiana's GRAMMY® artists and award winners and find out even more fun facts from the Recording Academy.