The Time Starbucks Won A Grammy

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When you step inside your favorite local coffee shop, there's a good chance "coffee shop music" is playing through some unseen speakers. If you're a frequent café-goer, you know the type: Soft indie rock, typically acoustic-guitar-heavy, with lilting vocals and very little bass.

Music and coffee go together like peanut butter and jelly — it's a timeless duet. That's why Starbucks knows a thing or two about duets. The coffee giant has a long and rich history with the music scene. Believe it or not, legendary saxophonist Kenny G helped create the Frappuccino, per ABC News. Longtime Starbucks fans will remember the "Pick of the Week" program, which launched in 2008. In collaboration with Apple's iTunes, every Tuesday, a new song or music video by a selected artist would become available for free digital download to Starbucks customers. Small cards printed with the artist's name and the album cover sat beside the cash register with digital download codes on the back. "Pick of the Week" came after Starbucks' wildly successful "Song of the Day" program in October 2007. This program consisted of coffee fans downloading a new handpicked song every day for a month — and the program got 6 million hits.

Before that, though, Starbucks won a Grammy, and here's the story.

Starbucks produced a Ray Charles album

In 2004, Ray Charles released the duet album "Genius Loves Company," which was co-produced by the coffee giant (per Starbucks). On the aptly-titled record, the R&B icon teams up with other musical giants for an anthology of twelve unexpected genre-bending duets. Charles' signature raspy timbre is paired with vocalists including Willie Nelson, Elton John, Norah Jones, B.B. King, folk-darling James Taylor, and more (via Discogs).

To produce the album, Starbucks imprint, Starbucks Hear Music, collaborated with Concord Records, the label behind diverse musicians like Elvis Costello, Santana, British new-wave's Tears for Fears, post-punk's The Offspring, violinist Lindsey Stirling, and more. "Genius Loves Company" was the final studio album Charles ever recorded. In fact, it was released posthumously. The album received eight Grammys, among them the prestigious Record of the Year and Album of the Year awards. The album sold more than 5 million copies globally and went triple-platinum — the highest honor an album can receive. So, what made the Starbucks album so special and Grammy-worthy?

A new era in music ushered in by Starbucks

"Genius Loves Company" was huge for a lot of reasons. As Starbucks notes, the record came out "[at] a time when duet albums were not commonplace ... " Sure, duet singles were crowd-pleasers for decades by the album's release in 2004. The 80s saw such iconic duets as Mick Jagger and David Bowie's "Dancing in the Street," Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers' "Islands in the Stream," and even the unconventional pairing with Meat Loaf and Cher's "Dead Ringer for Love." 

But these duets were all one-offs. When it comes to duet albums, jazz giants Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong were doing it as early as 1956. When country's Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood's eponymous duet album "Nancy & Lee" came out in 1968, it hit number 13 on the Billboard 200 list, and has since made the rankings of Pitchfork's enduring "200 Best Albums of the 1960s." But, in the case of all of these duets (singles and albums alike), both collaborating musicians already played music within the same genre. After "Genius Loves Company," the next comparable commercially-successful genre-bending duet album wouldn't come until 2007. Led Zeppelin-heads and bluegrass fans alike won't soon forget Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's "Raising Sand," which won Album of the Year at the 2009 Grammys (via MTV). But it was Ray Charles' album that paved the way and defied genre for a smashing album with wild success — and fans largely have Starbucks to thank.