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Thursday
Jan282010

Grammy Roundup: The Voices Behind the Music

For 51 years the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has gathered annually to celebrate outstanding achievements in the music industry. This Sunday, January 31 at 8PM, the 52nd Grammy Awards will erupt on to televisions (three-dimensionally!) across the universe.

What you might not know, is that many of the same voices that can be heard on your favorite albums have also taken little-known turns in animated programs, narration, videogames, and audio books. Our team of experts reviewed the full list of 2010 nominees, entered their details into a state-of-the-art voice recognition database known to few "insiders" as The IMDB, and had the results secretly verified by the independent accounting firm of Deloitte. We will now present our findings to you.

So, when you're no doubt watching CBS's Grammy Awards telecast on Sunday (because "we're all fans"), instead of just talking about Beyoncé's ten nominations, the Black Eyed Peaspossible Album of the Year win, or Hall & Oatesnod for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, you can also discuss Fergie's early work in Peanuts, Beyoncé's other group, The Wub Girls, and Hall & Oates' brilliant cameo as an animated angel and devil.

Read on for the groundbreaking discoveries. 

Let's begin with the top three categories — album, record and song — split between seven nominees. First up, Beyoncé, who has more nominations this year than any other artist. Last spring Beyoncé lent her voice to four episodes of Nickeloden's animated kid's show Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! as Shine, the lead singer of The Wub Girls. It was her first voiceover role and first children's project. You can see Shine arriving in Wuzzleberg for the first time in the clip below. Clearly Wubzy has no idea about the awesome musical talent that just landed in his town.  

Nominated for four Grammy Awards, The Black Eyed Peas, may have collectively done the most interesting voiceover work. Early in her career, Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson, the Peas' lead singer voiced two characters in the classic Peanuts cartoons. For two years in the mid '80s she could be heard as Sally Brown, Charlie's philosophical and slackerish younger sister, and for one year she played the cynical and ill-tempered eight-year-old, Lucille "Lucy" van Pelt. Watch and listen to Fergie as Sally in a clip from Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown below.  

Fergie can also be heard along with her bandmate Will.i.am in 2009's Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard, which was released primarily in France as Arthur et la vengeance de Maltazard. The partially animated film was the sequel to 2006's Arthur and the Invisibles (which included the voices of Madonna, David Bowie, Snoop Dogg, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Jason Bateman among others). In Maltazard, Will.i.am played the character of Snow, and Fergie voiced Replay. Check out the behind the scenes clip (20 seconds in) featuring Will.i.am and Fergie (and Snoop) below. 

Nominated for five Grammys, Lady Gaga has not done any specific voiceover work (unless you count Barbara Walters' favorite line, "I'm Bluffin' with my Muffin," in Poker Face).

Dave Matthews Band has two nominations this year. Voiceover work? Not much, but there there is the following American Express "Are You a Cardmember?" commercial narrated by Mr. Matthews, Gwyenth Paltrow, Brian Grazer and Tina Turner.

Coming in with four nominations, Grammy sleepers Kings of Leon haven't done any voiceover work that we're aware of, but the songs "Red Morning Light" from their 2003 debut, Youth and Young Manhood was featured in a Ford Focus commercial, and "Molly Chambers" — from the same album — can be heard in a Volkswagen Jetta spot

We'd now like to take a moment to mention  Hall & Oates. Besides being Rachel Ray's all-time favorite band, H&O are nominated for one award this year (curiously for the song "Sara Smile" — a 34-year old track — which appears on the duo's 2008 live album); if they win it will mark their first Grammy, 25 years after their last top ten album. But everything comes back in style again, and this just might be the year Daryl and John regain cultural relevance. Last month the two appeared in animated form on Fox's The Cleveland Show — Mr. Hall as the optimistic angel and Mr. Oates as the naysaying devil. 

Bruce Springsteen has four nominations; surprisingly he has not participated in many voiceover projects. However, Mr. Springsteen does narrate Working on a Dream: A Super Bowl Journal, a 60-minute film documenting the band's rehearsals and moments leading up to their performance at last year's Super Bowl halftime show.

Justin Timberlake earned three nominations this year; he can also be heard in a growing number of voice roles. Scheduled for a December 2010 release, Mr. Timberlake will play of Boo Boo in the animated film Yogi Bear (Dan Aykroyd will voice Yogi). Additionally, he plays Artie in 2007's Shrek The Third, and Shrek Forever After, scheduled for release later this year. Mr Timberlake also appeared on two episodes of The Simpsons — 2001's "New Kids on the Blecch" and 2002's, "Gump Roast" — both times as himself. And, as reported by Us Weekly, he'll star in an episode of Family Guy later this year.

U2 has three nominations for 2010. The band's leader, Bono, has has one voiceover credit. In 1997 he narrated Elvis Presley: Great Performances Volume 3 — From the Waist Up, a documentary that traces Elvis' road to fame through interviews, photos and other archival footage. As a band, U2 appeared appeared in "Trash of the Titans," the 200th episode of The Simpsons along with Steve Martin (more on that later).

The big Recording Academy news for 2010 is Michael Jackson's Lifetime Achievement Award and 3D tribute. Mr. Jackson lent his voice to some fascinating places including Space Channel 5, a two-part music videogame series made for Sega Dreamcast in 2000, and PlayStation 2 in 2003. He played the character Space Michael — based on Mr. Jackson — an interplanetary pop star that battled evil robots with his voice. Watch Space Michael in a trailer for the game below. 

Perhaps just as surprising, the king of pop voiced a 1991 episode of The Simpsons called "Stark Raving Dad." He played Leon Kompowsky, a bricklayer that Bart met in a mental institution and mistook for Michael Jackson. Full episode here.

Up for just one award (Best Dance Recording) this year, Madonna has lent her voice to more than just Arthur & The Invisibles. She also narrated I Am Because We Are, a 2008 documentary written and produced by the singer that gives a first-hand look at the crises in Malawi and chronicles her own experience in Africa. 

Next, David Byrne who has three nominations (two for best packaging!) with Brian Eno for the album Everything that Happens will Happen Today. Mr Byrne narrated  the 1986 cult classic True Stories — which he also wrote and directed — about a fictional Texas town preparing for the "Celebration of Specialness" sponsored by the Varicorp Corporation (a bit of a mouthful, no?). Watch the first few minutes of True Stories below.

Mr. Byrne (not to be confused with Mr. Burns) also appeared on a 2003 episode of The Simpsons entitled "Dude, Where's My Ranch?". He played himself and produced the song "Flanders is a Jerk," which became a huge radio hit for Homer. Although we couldn't find a clip online, we did track down a Russian version of the full episode which you can watch here (highly recommended).

The category of Best Traditional Pop Vocal album has three contenders — Tony Bennett, Harry Connick Jr., and Liza Minelli — that have done their share of voiceover work. Mr. Bennett narrated the 2009 PBS special Frame After Frame: The Images of Herman Leonard, which documents the life and work of the great jazz photographer as well as 1999's Ella Fitzgerald — Something to Live For. He can also be heard in a 1990 episode of The Simpsons called"Dancin' Homer." Fact: Mr. Bennett was the first guest star to appear as himself on The Simpsons. Check out the song, "Capital City," sung by the great crooner below. 

Harry Connick Jr. narrated the 2000 film My Dog Skipas the voice of adult Willie Morris, telling the tale of growing up and getting older with his dog Skip. He also played Lil' Farley in the 2005 NBC animated special, The Happy Elf, based on his song of the same name. Additionally, Mr. Connick provided the voice of the beatnik artist and junkyard owner Dean McCoppin in the 1999 animated science fiction film The Iron Giant. Watch some of Dean's some of best moments below. 

Liza "Lucille 2" Minelli rounds out the Traditional Pop Vocal category; she lent her voice to a couple of animated projects throughout her career including 1984's Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night. She also played the voice or Dorothy in 1974's Journey Back to Oz, the animated (not quite as revolutionary), follow-up to Wizard of Oz, which was released in 1939 and starred her mother, Judy Garland, in the same role. Watch below as Dorothy (Ms. Minelli) finds herself back in the wild world of Oz. 

Steve Martin might take home a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album, but whether or not he wins, he'll always have the memory of playing Hotep in 1998's, The Prince of Egypt. The Dreamworks animated film was voiced by a score of notable names and traced the life of Moses — from his birth, through childhood as a Prince of Egypt, to his ultimate destiny of leading the Hebrew slaves out of country. If that's a little too biblical, you can always watch/hear Mr. Martin in "Trash of the Titans, a 2008 episode of The Simpsons where he plays Sprigfield's sanitation commissioner Ray Patterson. Check out Homer's debate with Patterson in the clip below. 

Jaime Foxx has three nominations in the R&B categories. Mr. Foxx has done one voice project called C-Bear and Jamal, Tone "Funky Cold MedinaLoc's four-episode cartoon series which aired on Fox in 1996. For those keeping score, Mr. Loc plays the voice of C-Bear. 

Moving on to the rap categories, seven of this year's nominees have dabbled in voice work. Kanye West has six nominations in total, two in the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group,  three for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, and one for Best rap song. Mr. West can be heard — along with fellow nominee Common — narrating the 2006 documentary, Gangster with a Heart of Gold: The Noonie G Story. Watch the trailer below.

Speaking of Common, he has two nominations this year. As for voice work, in addition to Noonie G, the the rapper can be heard in Wanted: Weapons of Fate, the 2009 videogame based off of the movie Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie. Common plays the role of the gunsmith in both the film and game.

Eminem is up for two awards for his album Relapse, but you can also hear him as Detective McVicar, the crooked cop in 2005's 50 Cent: Bulletproof. The rapper also went the comedy route and made an appearance as Billy Fletcher in a 2002 episode of Comedy Central's prank call show, Crank Yankers. Check out Billy calling to make a reservation here.

50 Cent, who as mentioned, stars in his own videogame, has one 2010 nomination for his collaboration with Eminem. However, his coolest starring role — or roles — is in last year's gaming sensation Call of Duty 2: Modern Warfare. Mr. Cent is used as "the multi-player voice," playing various Marine squad voices in the multiplayer mode of the title. A few of his phrases include: "Watch your fire," "Tango down," "I'm down, get me up!," and "Reloading." Check out some of the voices in the clip below, but listen closely. 

Dr. Dre, who has one nomination this year, is another veteran of Bulletproof; he voices Grizz in the game. You can also hear the Doctor in the 1993 animated special A Cool Like That Christmas (also starring Whoopi Goldberg, Tommy Davidson, Boys II Men — and Tone Loc!).

Up for three awards this year, Mos Def played the rapper Gangstalicious on two episodes of the animated series The Boondocks, which aired from 2005-2007 and can be now seen on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block. Check out Ganstalicious spitting some rhymes in the clip below. 

Closing out the Rap category, Q-Tip has one nomination for Best Rap Album. If you can't get enough of his voice, check him out as the narrator, Complex, in Love Goggles.

Finally, Metallica is up for best Hard Rock Performance. Lead vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett have each lent their voices to some awesome projects over the past few years. Mr. Hetfield and Mr. Hammett can be heard in the first season (2006) of Adult Swim's Metalocalypse, an animated parody series about the heavy metal band Dethklok. Mr. Hetfield and Mr. Ulrich also voiced dragons in the "Here there be Dragons" episode of Disney's, Dave the Barbarian. (Clearly the band has come a long way from the Kill 'Em All days.) Check out the final clip of our Grammy roundup below to see the masters of puppets set a trap for Dave the Barbarian.

If you've come this far, we'd like to congratulate you. You've read all of the findings and have enough information to easily be the most popular person at your Grammy party. Thanks for reading. 

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