First Asian Americans to Win Grammy Awards


GRAMMY FIRSTS is a music history series by TRAKTIVIST celebrating the first Asian Americans to win Grammy Awards.

Larry Ramos became the first Asian / Filipino American to win a Grammy Award in 1963.

Hilario D. "Larry" Ramos Jr., of Filipino descent, was born and raised in Hawaii. In 1962, Larry Ramos joined The New Christy Minstrels, an American large-ensemble folk music group. Ramos provided backup vocals and played the banjo as well as other stringed instruments. The New Christy Minstrels recorded their debut album 'Presenting The New Christy Minstrels' on Columbia records. The album would win a Grammy Award in 1963 for Best Performance by a Chorus. Larry Ramos would later lead the pop band The Association.

Yvonne Elliman became the first Japanese Hawaiian American to win a Grammy Award in 1978.

Yvonne Marianne Elliman was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii to a Japanese mother and Irish father. In 1977, she recorded 'If I Can’t Have You' which was included in the soundtrack for the film Saturday Night Fever. The song was a hit, rising to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The soundtrack would win a Grammy Award in 1978 for Album of the Year.

Yo-Yo Ma became the first Chinese American to win a Grammy Award in 1984.

Yo-Yo Ma was born in 1955 to Chinese parents living in Paris, France. In 1957, the child prodigy moved with his family to New York to continue his cello studies. In 1983, he released the album 'Bach: The Unaccompanied Cello Suites'. The album would win a Grammy Award in 1983 for Best Classical Performance - Instrumental Soloist or Soloists (Without Orchestra). Yo-Yo Ma would go on to win a total of 18 Grammy Awards becoming the most decorated musician in Asian American history.

Eddie and Alex Van Halen became the first Indonesian Americans to win a Grammy Award in 1991.

The Van Halen brothers were born in the Netherlands to a Dutch father and Indonesian mother. The family moved to Pasadena California in 1962. Van Halen would officially form as a band in 1974 with Eddie as the lead guitarist and Alex as the drummer. In 1991, Van Halen released their ninth studio album 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge'. The album would win a Grammy Award in 1991 for Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal.

Kim Thayil of the band Soundgarden became the first Indian American to win a Grammy Award in 1994.

Thayil was born in Seattle. His parents immigrated from India to Washington. Formed in 1984, Thayil co-founded Soundgarden along with Japanese American bassist Hiro Yamamoto and vocalist Chris Cornell. Soundgarden pioneered the grunge music genre, influencing other iconic bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. In 1994, songs from Soundgarden’s “Superunknown” album would win two Grammy Awards for Best Hard Rock Performance & Best Metal Performance.

Phil Tan became the first Malaysian American to win a Grammy Award in 2005.

Originally born in Malaysia, he moved to Florida in 1990 to get his degree in Recording Arts. Tan’s big break was in 1992 working with hip hop entrepreneur and producer Jermaine Dupri. Phil Tan engineered and mixed Mariah Carey’s tenth studio album The Emancipation of Mimi. The album would win a Grammy Award in 2005 for Best Contemporary R&B Album.

Tylana Renga Enomoto became the first Thai Japanese American to win a Grammy Award in 2012.

While playing at a coffee shop, Tylana was discovered by members of Quetzal, an East LA Chican@ rock band. In 1997, she would officially join Quetzal as the violinist and backing vocalist. In 2012, Quetzal released the album Imaginaries as part of the Smithsonian Folkways Tradition series. The album would win a Grammy Award in 2012 for Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative Album.

Video Series produced by:

Richie Traktivist @traktivist
Anton Delfino @forksandrec

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