Brittany Howard, the powerhouse 24-year-old frontwoman for Alabama Shakes, isn’t much for red carpets. But duty called for her double-barreled Grammy debut, so she fancied up her hair and had fellow Southerner Billy Reid design her some dresses. At the MusiCares tribute to Bruce Springsteen, the pre-awards black-tie gala, the Shakes delivered a devastating Adam Raised a Cain, with Howard lowering her gritty, supple punk-blues voice to an astonishing Springsteen-like roar. Then, for the Grammy tribute to Levon Helm, Howard sang The Weight alongside Elton John, Mumford & Sons, Zac Brown, T Bone Burnett and her hero, Mavis Staples, taking the “Crazy Chester” verse and nearly outshining everyone else. Howard brought her grandmother along, and backstage they made the most of it. “I met Adele,” Howard said from her home in Athens, Alabama. “My nana knocked on her dressing-room door and made her come out! She’s fearless.”
The Shakes didn’t take home a statue, despite three nominations, but they had a blast. And they ended the whirlwind week with their first appearance on Saturday Night Live, which in some ways was the best of all. “So many of our heroes have played on that show: Tom Petty, My Morning Jacket,” Howard says. “The Grammys are stressful. On SNL, I just got up there and had fun.”
It was another big moment in the whiplash rise of the Shakes, who in two years have gone from rural oddballs playing Black Sabbath and James Brown covers to an A-list Southern soul-rock franchise. The band’s 2012 debut, Boys & Girls, a set of impassioned originals with a Stax/Volt kick, has sold 430,000 copies, topping iTunes and Amazon’s sales chart in February – nearly a year after its release – thanks to a post-Grammy/SNL bump. The single Hold On (Rolling Stone’s Number One song of 2012) is at 5 million YouTube hits and counting, and Howard has become a sort of soul-queen anti-diva, not afraid to sweat, howl, rock Rubenesque curves, shred on her turquoise Gibson SG or bust geeky dance moves.
Read more: RollingStone