It was, of course, beyond bittersweet.
The weeks after losing Michael were a blur of unimaginable loss—and then, suddenly, we were faced with the decision as to whether or not we, as a family, would fly to New York to be on hand at Radio City Music Hall to accept the Best New Age Grammy should the envelope be opened, and were Oracle to win.
In a way, it was a coalescing moment—an immediate task, something positive we could do at a time when it often felt like we didn’t know what to do. Mike’s kids were still a bit too young to make the trip; Hilleary joined us.
We decided that my mom, Ruth, who had shown such strength and held us together during that awful time, would speak if Michael won. As we took our seats, I had an uncertain feeling—had we made the right decision? What if we’d come all this way, hoping to celebrate Michael’s music, but the award went to someone else? And always, the overwhelming feeling that Michael should be there, not us.
Radio City is huge, and was filling up.
This was the lengthy pre-show where the majority of Grammys were presented prior to the live network broadcast that would shortly follow (and where, as it happened, Aretha Franklin would famously stand in for Pavarotti and knock “Nessun Dorma” out of the park). I took a breath. The energy of New York couldn’t help but lift our spirits; win or lose, it was a welcome respite from the dreary, rainy winter back on the Mendocino coast.
While we waited, I was reminded of a grand story my Mom used to tell, of a small-town college band trip she took in the ‘40s, to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The band’s itinerary included a movie screening at Radio City. Mom had already seen the film, and pleaded with her band director, Milburn Carey, for permission to take in some other tourist attraction instead. He insisted that she stay with the band, and as the curtain fell after the dazzling pre-show (Rockettes! Live Orchestra! Lights! Fanfare!), Dr. Carey leaned forward in the row to yell against the roaring applause:
“Hey, Ruth! Did you say you’d seen this before?”
Oracle received the Grammy® for Best New Age record in 1998, just after Michael’s death.
Some fifty years later, she was walking up onto the very same stage when Michael’s name was called. Art Garfunkel handed her the golden gramophone.
Mom had fallen a few days before, so I assisted her backstage as she navigated the press line for winners (Tony Bennett and Taj Majal were ahead and behind us). As heartbreaking as the moment was, it will always be an enduring memory of mine to see her—the former music teacher from Marshall, Oklahoma, the cornet player my Dad had fallen in love with, the center of our universe—stepping into an arena set up for the photo call—smiling as best she could, holding her firstborn son’s much-deserved award, front and center, before what seemed like a hundred photographers…
—their flashbulbs going off, over and over and over.