Kim Petras was not the first trans person to win a Grammy

Composer, electronic musician Wendy Carlos at work in her New York City recording studio, October 1979. (Photo by Leonard M. DeLessio/Corbis via Getty Images) Photo: Corbis via Getty Images

“I just wanted to thank all the incredible transgender legends before me who kicked these doors open for me so I could be here tonight,” Kim Petras said in her acceptance speech for Best Pop Group/Duo Performance at Sunday night’s 65th Annual Grammy Awards.

The 30-year-old pop star made history alongside Sam Smith as the first out trans and non-binary artists to receive the award for their song “Unholy.”

Petras made a point of acknowledging in her speech that she was “the first transgender woman to win this [emphasis added] award.” And while much of the media coverage of her win included that essential caveat, some on social media took the opportunity to set the record straight and acknowledge a trans pioneer of electronic music.

“While we celebrate Kim Petras’s historic win at last night’s Grammys, let’s also use this as an opportunity to show some love to electronic music pioneer and 3x Grammy Award-winner Wendy Carlos,” writer and podcast host Evan Ross Katz wrote in an Instagram post.

“An important distinction to make,” tweeted musician Left at London. “Wendy Carlos is the first trans person to win a grammy. Kim Petras is the first OUT trans person to win a grammy.”

“It’s not too important because i’m happy a transgender person is winning but kim petras is not the first transgender person to win a grammy; wendy carlos was,” wrote another Twitter user. “She won three classical awards in 1970 and i’m a little sad to see wendy’s work not being acknowledged.”

Both Left at London and activist Erin Reed noted that Carlos was not out when she received three Grammys for her 1968 album Switched-On Bach, a collection of classical compositions performed on a Moog modular synthesizer. In fact, Carlos didn’t come out publicly until 1979 in an interview with Playboy, despite reportedly having begun gender-affirming hormone therapy as early as 1968. By the time Switched-On Bach was released, she had already become influential in the burgeoning electronic music field, even helping engineer Robert Moog develop his groundbreaking synthesizer.

Following the success of Switched-On Bach, Carlos would occasionally don fake sideburns and men’s clothing for interviews and public performances before coming out publicly in 1979.

She went on to compose the soundtracks for A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), and Tron (1982). In a 2020 piece about her career, The Guardian called her “arguably the most important living figure in the history of electronic music.” Following Petras’s Grammy win, The Fader acknowledged Carlos as “a titan of electronic music.”

At 83, Carlos seems to have largely retreated from public life, emerging only briefly in 2020 to disavow an unauthorized biography. Her official website doesn’t seem to have been updated since then, but it remains a treasure trove of information about her career.

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