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Women & The Grammy For “Producer of The Year, Classical”

The Grammy for Producer of the Year, Classical (originally Classical Producer of the Year) was introduced in 1979. This particular category distinguishes itself as the first technical award where a woman was nominated on the ground floor, during the category’s inaugural year.

That woman was Joanna Nickrenz.

Not only was Nickrenz the first woman to receive a nod in Production (Classical Producer of the Year – 1979), she’s also the first woman I’ve found on record to be nominated for a Grammy in Engineering (Best Engineered Recording, Classical for Edgard Varése’s “Percussion Music” – 1974).

A classically trained pianist, Ms. Nickrenz took a strong interest in the recording process during her first studio sessions. This led to her taking an assistant position at Elite Recordings, where she worked as an editor, producer, and eventually full partner to Elite founder, recording engineer Marc Aubort. Records made under the Aubort/Nickrenz umbrella carry a legacy among audiophiles as being some of the best orchestral recordings ever produced.

Affectionately dubbed “Miss Razor Ears,” Joanna was fiercely dedicated to preserving the integrity of the score. She was known to admonish musicians if they played any part of a work incorrectly or dared to improvise. When she passed away in 2002, her urn was humorously engraved with an oft-used corrective phrase: “What’s written is also nice.”

Ms. Nickrenz received 8 Producer of the Year, Classical nominations and won the award twice. In 1983, she shared the win with Aubort. In 1996, she was the sole recipient. She was additionally nominated in 1984, 1986, and 2001, but did not win during those years.

If she is indeed the first woman to break through the Grammy glass ceiling in both production and engineering, how is it that Joanna Nickrenz doesn’t even have her own Wikipedia page? Why can’t I find a single photograph of this pioneering lady?

(SoundGirls let’s get her a Wikipedia page – Editing SoundGirls into Wikipedia)

Women account for around 14% of those nominated for Producer of the Year, Classical. A total of eight Grammys have been handed to women in the category’s 39-year history.

Five of these trophies have gone to Judith Sherman.

Nominated a whopping 12 times, Judith is a major contributor to the catalog of recorded classical music. She got her start as a broadcast engineer at WBAI-FM in New York City, working up to positions as a producer and musical director. She started her own production company, Judith Sherman Productions, in 1976. She is the second woman to be nominated for a Grammy in Engineering, receiving a Best Engineered Recording, Classical nod in 1990.

Though she’s established a long and fruitful legacy, Ms. Sherman remains a force to be reckoned with to this day. She has been nominated for Producer of the Year, Classical for the past five years in a row.

Being prolific seems almost a prerequisite when you look at the women in this category, most of whom have been nominated multiple times.

Robina G. Young has received ten nominations for Producer of the Year, Classical. Marina A. Ledin has received eight. Young and Ledin have not yet crossed the stage to collect a trophy, but they show no signs of slowing down. 2006 winner Elaine Martone has managed over 1500 projects and offers a staggering biography. Nominee Elizabeth Ostrow is still going strong on a career spanning over 40 years. Anna Barry, who has over 500 recordings in her discography, was recently tasked to be the official recordist for the Royal Wedding. The late Patti Laursen was another important trailblazer, producing the first digital recordings made by Capitol Records in 1979.

Women in production have fared much better in the Classical division than in the category’s Non-Classical equivalent, with the percentage of wins landing at about 20%. The percentage of women who’ve won Producer of the Year, Non-Classical is still zero.

Though popular music will always have better PR, some of the most crucial and groundbreaking work has been done by women operating under the Classical umbrella. Seeing that the Recording Academy is pushing #WomenInTheMix and that March is Women’s History Month, the accomplishments of these producers should be loudly celebrated.

I invite you to dive deeper into the stories of the women nominated for Producer of the Year, Classical. Personally, I’ll be ensuring that Ms. Nickrenz finally gets her Wiki page. If anyone out there can find a picture of her, I sure would be glad to finally see it.


1979 / 1983* (winner) / 1984 / 1986 / 1988 / 1996* (winner) / 2001


1990 / 1993* (winner) / 1994 / 1997 / 2007* (winner) / 2008 / 2011* (winner) / 2014* (winner) / 2015* (winner) / 2016 / 2017 / 2018


2006* (winner) / 2014


1993 / 1998 / 1999 / 2001 / 2002 / 2003 / 2004 / 2007 / 2008 / 2016


1999 / 2003 / 2007 / 2010 / 2012 / 2013 / 2015 / 2016


1989 / 2018






The Double Glazed Glass Ceiling


The Producer of the Year, Non-Classical category was established by the Recording Academy in 1974 to honor those who “present consistently outstanding creativity in the area of record production.” Non-Classical is the Academy’s designation for popular music.

267 individual Grammy nominations have been made since the category’s inception. Several producers have been selected more than once. 7 of these 267 nominations were presented to women. That means less than 3% of those considered for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical has been female.

To date, none have taken home the trophy.

Let’s take a look at the handful of women who’ve blazed the trail thus far.

Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation 1814 (1990)

Miss Jackson was the first woman to receive a nomination in the category, with longtime collaborators Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam.

Expanding on the narrative of power established by her 1986 commercial breakthrough, Control, Janet bucked expectations even further and released a slick, socially-conscious concept album in the unlikely vein of Marin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”

Rhythm Nation 1814 was nominated for 9 Grammys and spawned seven Billboard Top 5 singles, breaking the record previously set by her famous older brother. Five of those singles made it to #1. The groundbreaking 30-minute “telemusical” released as a video companion to the record earned Janet a Grammy for Best Music Video – Long Form.

Mariah Carey – Emotions (1991)

Co-produced with Walter Afanasieff, Emotions marks the second occasion upon which a woman was up for the award, in 1991.

Upon signing with Columbia Records, 19-year-old Mariah—who co-produced the demos that got her picked up by Tommy Motolla—was obliged to take a backseat to established producers for her chart-topping debut, Mariah Carey. Hers is a classic case study in the perils of being a young woman in the record business; though she’s accomplished plenty in her own right, one wonders what she might have achieved if she’d been granted better access and support early on in her career instead of finding herself trapped in what she refers to as “the golden cage.”

After her first album’s success, Mariah sought to take more of a producer’s role on Emotions. She is credited as a vocal arranger, producer, and mixer.

Paula Cole – This Fire (1998)

Though she’s technically the third nominee, Paula Cole was the first woman to be nominated as a sole producer, in 1998.

Cole was a frontrunner on the wave of 1990s women fighting for a stronger foothold in the music business. A self-proclaimed “dark horse,” the Berklee College of music alumna received backlash for her appearance at the award ceremony for sporting unapologetically hairy armpits and flipping the bird during her performance of “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?”

This Fire was nominated for seven awards, including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year. She took home the award for “Best New Artist.”

Sheryl Crow – The Globe Sessions (1999)

The fourth nominee had already made an indelible mark as a singer, songwriter, and musician when she received the Producer nod in 1999.

Sheryl Crow caught her big break on backup vocals with Michael Jackson in 1987. Her first album, produced by Hugh Padgham, was scrapped for being “too slick.” However, those songs found homes with some major artists: Tina Turner, Celine Dion, and Wynonna Judd. She established her rootsy-yet-pop-sensible sound with the official 1994 debut, Tuesday Night Music Club.

On The Globe Sessions, the storied songstress took the driver’s seat; producing all tracks except for a cover of Guns N Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (produced by Rick Rubin).

Crow was the first nominated female producer to have a woman on the album’s audio engineering team—Trina Shoemaker, who took home the first female win that year for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1999)

1999 was a landmark year for women at the Grammys, and Miseducation was the career-defining album of fifth nominee, Lauryn Hill. She was recognized alongside Sheryl Crow, marking the first time two women were simultaneously up for the award.

Stepping into the spotlight as one-third of hip-hop legends Fugees, the outspoken young singer-rapper captivated listeners with an updated rendition of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” The group disbanded in 1997 amid interpersonal issues and power struggles. Hill was determined to distance herself from her male contemporaries and establish her own creative space.

Though her legacy has suffered quite a bit of controversy, Ms. Hill’s contributions to hip-hop are lasting. She was the first female artist to be nominated for ten Grammys in a single year. She hit yet another first when she took home five trophies that night—unfortunately, none of them were for Producer of the Year.

Lauren Christy – (2004)

Lauren Christy, another singer-songwriter who found her true calling off the beaten path, was nominated in 2004 for her work with writing and production team The Matrix, which included records made with Hillary Duff and Liz Phair.

Before establishing herself as a behind-the-scenes hitmaker, Christy was an award-winning solo artist. Her contributions to Avril Lavigne’s breakthrough debut, Let Go, earned her seven Grammy nominations and cemented her place in pop history.

A prolific songwriter, she’s most recently cut records with Bebe Rexha, Dua Lipa, and The Struts. Additional credits include David Bowie, Jason Mraz, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Shakira, Chris Brown, and Korn.

Linda Perry – (2019)

Like the other women on this list, Linda Perry got started on her path to Producer of the Year as an artist. She scored an international hit with the song “What’s Up?” by her band 4 Non Blondes in 1992 and has since parlayed that success into a highly regarded songwriting and production career, making records with some of music’s top artists.

The seventh nominee, Perry stands out as the first to really step into the role of Producer. She runs a professional recording studio and is credited as an engineer on multiple projects. She founded two labels, a publishing company, and an artist development organization (We Are Hear). Her catalog—featuring such artists as Pink, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Joan Jett, and Dolly Parton—imparts a pointed engagement with and championship of women.

After 14 years of no representation in the category, the 53-year-old super producer stands a chance to finally shatter the glass ceiling for an increasingly upsurgent tide of female music producers.

Will the Recording Academy “step up” and award a woman with the Grammy for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical?

We’ll have to wait and see.

* For purposes of this article, we’re focusing on the primary branch of the Grammys, established by National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences in 1957. Linda Briceño was the first female producer to take home a Latin Grammy, in 2018.

Ainjel Emme is a musician, songwriter, and producer. She has spent the past 20 years immersed in the study and practice of record production, shadowing world-class audio engineers, working in professional studios, and making records via her Los Angeles-based production house, Block of Joy.

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