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The Grammy Man

By Ilisapeci Tinanisigabalavu
Tuesday, January 30, 2018

In a studio nestled in the San Juan Mountain in the town of Ridgway, in the state of Colorado, a 69-year-old man has brought fame into the town through the music industry, but in a whole different stage.

John Billings, commonly known as The Grammy Man in Ridgway, was a dental student when he became an apprentice with his best friend's father and mold-maker Bob Graves in 1976. Bob Graves was the original Grammy maker.

Before Graves died of kidney failure, he made Billings promise him to never let the Grammys go and to continue his legacy. Billings took over the business in 1983 and now his company — Billings Artworks makes 680 Grammy Awards annually and this includes 230 Latin Grammys.

Billings leads a three-man team in handcrafting the Grammys. They produce the 24K-gold-plated awards in batches of 30, with each award requiring 15 hours of manpower. Today, Billings uses his own special zinc alloy to make the trophies and he has named the zinc — Grammium.

He is payed per Grammy that he makes by the Academy, but Billings admitted that he once got "chewed out" for revelling how much he makes from making the Grammys. He now keeps his earnings under wraps. Billings Artworks is also responsible for making two other trophies, the Annie Award — animation's highest honour and the NCAA equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, the John R. Wooden Award. Billing's proudest memory was when Bob Dylan was awarded his lifetime achievement award that was made by him. According to Billings, seeing the Grammys that he makes is like watching his children on stage.

Billings streamlined the design of the trophies in 1991 because the older ones seemed to break a lot. Today, each Grammy weighs about five pounds and stands approximately 8.5 inches tall. The signature gramophones on the telecast are recycled "stunt" Grammys.

Billings and his team laser-engrave the names on to the plates and package the trophies once the Recording Academy provides a winners' list. Then he personally drives the haul to the Academy office in Santa Monica. The winners usually receive their customised award within 60 days.

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