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Making Beautiful Music Together: The Grammy-Winning Artists #SouthOfUnionSquare

Known for its eclectic ambiance and creative energy, the area South of Union Square has historically acted as a magnet for hundreds of musicians, painters, photographers, and the like. As a center of music history, dozens of South of Union Square spots hosted Grammy-award-winning musicians, singers, and producers that shaped the music industry we know today.

The places we’ve selected below are all found on  the Music Tour on our South of Union Square map. You can also click here to send a letter supporting the landmark designation of these and other historic buildings south of Union Square.

The Hotel Albert – 65-67 University Place

The Hotel Albert is one building South of Union Square with an especially impressive history of musical residents. This magnificent complex, composed of four structures, covers the block of University Place between East 10th and East 11th Street. The structures vary in age, with the oldest at 50 East 11th dating back to the 1870s. Another significant component of the hotel was an early example of apartment design for middle to upper-class New Yorkers, known originally as the “Albert Apartment House.”

Eventually, the hotel would become known for its notable visitors and residents. Many of these guests established themselves as major musical stars, and some even won Grammy awards for their work. Joni Mitchell, the winner of Best Folk Performance in 1969, was known for frequenting the Albert. The Best New Artist of 1971, Carly Simon, was also known for her visits to the hotel. The list continues, including another well-known folk icon James Taylor, who eventually won Best Pop Vocal Performance in 1971. In fact, The Hotel Albert can get credit for hosting the many jam sessions that resulted in Grammy-award-winning work.

Hotel Albert ca. 1907 via New York Times

RPM Studios – 12 East 12th Street

12 East 12th Street

One of the first boutique studios in the city, RPM Studios was founded in 1976 by classically trained electronic composer turned studio owner Robert Mason. The studio was known for being the spot where many recording artists created their first prominent albums, such as Lauryn Hill’s Grammy-winning album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” amongst others. Some other Grammy artists that recorded their winning work at RPM Studios included Michael Bolton and his RPM-recorded song, “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You,” which would later win Best Pop Vocal Performance of 1989. Another Grammy award acquired through RPM Studios was Best Alternative Music Performance, won by the Beastie Boys for their album “Hello Nasty.”

Beastie Boys at the Grammys photographed by David Plastik

Phil Ramone would later join RPM, becoming the “Pope of Pop” when he mixed and produced albums for Billy Joel, Paul Simon, and Art Garfunkel, among others. His significant mark on the music industry would eventually create a new Grammy award just for him. The Producer of the Year award would go to Ramone in 1981 during his time at RPM Studios; later, the award went to other established producers like Quincy Jones in 1982, David Foster in 1992, and Brian Eno in 1993.

Lone Star Café – 61 Fifth Avenue

Found at 61 Fifth Avenue was New York’s premiere “country” music venue, the Lone Star Café. From 1976 to 1989, this venue was the select spot of for musicians of all stripes, however. After winning the Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance in 1986, James Brown performed his winning song “Living in America” and others at the Lone Star Café in 1987. 

61 Fifth Avenue, the original building that hosted the Lone Star Café, demolished after a fire in 2006.

The café hosted various genres of music, but country superstars like George Strait and Willie Nelson were especially popular on the roster.

Willie Nelson’s decorated Grammy list includes ten wins and fifty-six nominations. When he performed at the Lone Star Café in 1979, he had already won two Grammys and would receive his third the following year in 1980. George Strait, the winner of Best Country Album in 2008, visited the Lone Star Café to perform in 1984, singing his big hits “Amarillo by Morning” (1982) and “You Look So Good in Love” (1983). 

Unlike most other buildings on this list which survive, 61 Fifth Avenue, which housed the Lone Star Cafe, was demolished in the early 2000s.

Poster from the Lone Star Café, 1983

Apostolic Recording Studios – 53 East 10th Street

53 East 10th Street

Founded in the Spring of 1967 by John Townley, Apostolic Recording Studios was the first studio to produce 12-track records in the United States. Accessible to artists of the late sixties and early seventies, the technology was easy to use, creating a musician-centered atmosphere. Rumored to have had an in-house astrologer, the aura of Apostolic was a perfect match for the progressive mindsets of artists that recorded there. Some of the Grammy winners that recorded at Apostolic included Frank Zappa, winner of Best Rock Instrumental Performance for his album “Jazz From Hell,” and the winner of Best Country Vocal Performance for his song “Lucille,” Kenny Rogers.

Kenny Rogers accepting his 1977 Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance

Bradley’s – 70 University Place

70 University Place

Like the Lone Star Café, Bradley’s was a renowned South of Union Square music venue that welcomed many Grammy-winning artists inside its walls. Found at 70 University Place, the tiny jazz club was not just a venue but a school and watering hole for many Jazz notables. As remarked by the New York Times in 1996, “It was a place where musicians could mingle with one another. Cecil Taylor would sit with Tommy Flanagan at the bar, and Art Blakey would hold court in the corner until 4 in the morning.” 

Photograph by Mitchell Seidel, New York City, June 26, 1990

The space was home to over three decades of jazz and, of course, featured its share of Grammy winners, including the winner of the 1990 Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Art Blakely. Artists like Roy Hargrove, winner of Best Jazz Instrumental Album in 2002, were also featured on the stage of Bradley’s. After more than three decades of beautiful music, Bradley’s closed its doors in 1996, though 70 University Place survives.

The Columbia Phonograph Company & OKeh Records – 55 Fifth Avenue

55 Fifth Avenue

Some of the most significant recordings of 20th-century American music were produced in the studios at 55 Fifth Avenue. The Columbia Phonograph Company, later known as Columbia Records, was founded in 1887, becoming the second major company to produce records. Later, by 1916, OKeh Records was founded in the same building by Otto K.E. Heinemann. OKeh Records was known for producing “race records,” or recordings created by and for African Americans. These records included early jazz icons, like the 1964 Grammy winner for Best Vocal Performance, Louis Armstrong.

Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Dylan with their respective Grammy awards

Eventually, the two recording studios would merge to form the studio favored by producer John Hammond, winner of Best Traditional Blues Recording at the 1984 Grammys. Hammond was renowned for his efforts in integrating the music industry, eventually convincing Benny Goodman to record with African American artists. Hammond was also known for launching the careers of other Grammy-award-winning artists like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Aretha Franklin.

These spots and these artists are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of the transformative impact this neighborhood has on our arts, politics, and culture. To send a letter supporting landmark designation of historic buildings south of Union Square, click here.

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