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MADELINE BRAND, host:

The Grammy Awards take place tonight here in Los Angeles. Contemporary music stars Kanye West, Mariah Carey and Madonna are scheduled to perform.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

But one of the most anticipated guests is someone who might or might not show up, which is kind of how it's always been for the '70s funk rock icon Sly Stone. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has this report.

(Soundbite of Music)

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES reporting:

Before Sly Stone if you were a kid who liked popular music your choices were kind of like the waiting rooms of a Southern bus station in the 1950s, separate. There was soul and R&B, as excellently exemplified by The Temptations, Jerry Butler, Martha and the Vandellas and James Brown, and there was rock, your Beatles, your Stones, your Birds and Doors. Then Sly and the Family Stone came along with a different vibe entirely.

(Soundbite of Sly and Family Stone)

BATES: Music critic and essayist Steven Ivory says Sly's music was a lively amalgam of several genres.

Mr. STEVEN IVORY (Music Critic, Los Angeles): Well, what we hadn't seen was someone who dared blend gospel, rock, and soul, and a little bit of jazz even, all together. He was one of the first guys to do this on a massively commercial level.

BATES: And Ivory says Sly had another important innovation.

Mr. IVORY: Not only did he have white members in his band, but he had female members in his band doing things that you wouldn't expect females to do. He had Cynthia playing trumpet, he had Rose on keyboards; now back in the day you figured if you were going to have women in the group, they were probably background singers or they were playing a tambourine, but these women were integral members of the group, musician wise. I mean, they all had roles.

BATES: And they all had a message. Sometimes it was a reminder that Sly and his folks didn't want to be too far removed from the street energy they drew on for their music.

(Soundbite of song "Everyday People")

BATES: Other times it was a broad hint to his fans that while Sly's increasing failure to make concert dates, he blew off a third of them in 1970, was irritating; it was part of, well, being Sly.

(Soundbite of "If You Want Me To Stay")

BATES: From 1967 to about 1973 it felt like everybody was dancing to the music, but the party was a short one. Sly's love affair with cocaine and his growing disenchantment with performing had taken their toll. Steven Ivory.

Mr. IVORY: The interesting thing about Sly is that when he left, he left. You know, there was no farewell tours, there was no books, there was no farewell album; he just disappeared.

BATES: He tried a comeback album, Back on the Right Track, in 1979; that didn't impress anyone. And he appeared briefly in 1993 when he and his band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but for the most part, nothing until late last year. He surfaced long enough to supervise Different Strokes by Different Folks. It's a CD that features new artists like Maroon 5, Joss Stone, and John Legend covering Sly's classics. They'll pay homage to the man who inspired them at tonight's Grammy Awards, but will the source of the inspiration make an appearance? Stay tuned. Let's hope Sly's listening to his own music and is taking the hint.

(Soundbite of song "You Can Make It If You Try")

BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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