Kim Petras made history at the 2023 Grammys, earning her first award in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category for the global hit single “Unholy” with Sam Smith. Petras became the first openly trans person to win in the pop categories and to accept a Grammy. However, despite some media claims that she is the first trans musician to win any Grammy, that’s not actually the case.
Petras’ acceptance speech was a standout moment of the 2023 Grammys, and one that’s sure to be remembered for years to come. She and Smith were overcome with emotion as they received the award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for “Unholy.”
Petras gave the credit to Smith, stating, “Sam graciously wanted me to accept this award because I’m the first transgender woman to win this award,” and the audience responded with a standing ovation. Petras then acknowledged the impact of transgender pioneers in music, including the late producer Sophie, and thanked her collaborator Smith and LGBTQ ally Madonna.
The rising pop artist’s win at the 2023 Grammys was a significant moment, but the reports surrounding the moment have been inaccurate in stating that she is the first transgender artist to win a Grammy. The true first transgender artist to win a Grammy was Wendy Carlos, a pioneering figure in electronic music, who has been often overlooked.
Carlos made history in 1968 when she won three Grammys for her album Switched-On Bach. The collection of Bach’s music, performed on a Moog modular synthesizer, was a trailblazer in the electronic music genre.
The musician, who eventually came out as transgender, began gender-affirming hormone therapy as early as 1968, but didn’t publicly come out until 1979 in an interview with Playboy. Despite this, she had already become a significant figure in the world of electronic music, even playing a role in the development of the Moog synthesizer.
Throughout the years, Carlos would go on to earn three more Grammy nominations over a period of decades, though she only ended up taking home the trio of trophies.
Carlos later composed the soundtracks for films such as A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and the original Tron. Despite her major impact in the industry, Carlos never earned the same level of recognition as Petras is currently receiving.
This can be at least partially attributed to the lack of visibility and understanding of the transgender community at the time. Although Carlos has not been publicly active for some time, her legacy continues to live on, and the recent historic win at the Grammys has helped bring renewed attention to her contributions.
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