Garden City’s Kevin Burke was standing on a balcony at the 54th annual Grammy Awards nominee reception, his eyes scanning the room through a video camera.
One of two students chosen by the GRAMMY Foundation to be part of a student media team covering the awards show and its associated events, Burke, 16, was in a coveted position. No other media were allowed inside the event.
As he panned the crowd of celebrities below him, he noticed everyone’s heads were turned down, their cell phones out. News of Whitney Houston’s death had just started to circulate.
“Everyone was shocked and people started whispering in each other’s ears,” he said. “You could see the whole domino effect of people finding out. It was pretty unreal to be there when she died with people who actually knew Whitney.”
It was just one of many interesting experiences Burke had during Grammy week, when he acted as both a videographer and an interviewer. His work was published on the GRAMMY in the Schools website and on Cambio.com, an AOL entertainment site.
Burke was one of two students chosen by GRAMMY in the Schools for its first media team, said Nate Hertweck, project manager at the GRAMMY Foundation. Burke was eligible for the opportunity as a participant in GRAMMY Camp in Manhattan, an eight-day course over the summer geared toward preparing students for a career in the music industry.
Hertweck said Burke was chosen because he had an interest and experience in graphic design and video production.
“That sort of showed us that he had the technical savvy and skills to come out and be part of this experience,” Hertweck said. “But really, he was chosen because he’s a very likable, trustworthy, bright and magnetic young man.”
Burke spent the entire week of the Grammys in Los Angeles covering events attended by the GRAMMY Camp Jazz Session, a 30-student jazz ensemble. He also covered the red carpet at the Feb. 10 MusiCares charity event, which paid tribute to Paul McCartney; the Feb. 11 nominee reception, which he was able to attend because the GRAMMY Camp Jazz Session performed there; the red carpet leading up to the awards show on Feb. 12 and the official after party. He also got to sit down for most of the actual awards show, before leaving to film the sound check at the after party.
“I learned how much preparation it takes to put on one award show,” he said. “Besides the telecast, there’s so much more that goes into one night.”
Among many, Burke said he interviewed members of his favorite band the Foo Fighters, actor Tom Hanks, comedian Steve Martin, singer Alison Krauss, Kevin Eubanks from "The Tonight Show," musician Skrillex, the band Mumford and Sons and singer Jason Mraz.
“Probably the best interview I had was with Jason Mraz on Friday,” he said. “He was really cool, and he asked me a bunch of questions before the interview even began.”
Burke said one of the most memorable moments for him was interviewing the Foo Fighters for a second time during the weekend at Sunday’s red carpet, when members of the band remembered him from a few days before.
“I was starstruck,” he said. “I was kind of stuttering, and the Foo Fighters remembered me as that kid who couldn’t get his words out.”
Burke’s father, John, and his 15-year-old brother, Connor, flew out to Los Angeles at the end of the week to meet him and also managed to get tickets to see the Grammys. He said seeing his son’s hard work pay off was a “proud moment.”
“It was fantastic,” he said. “You never picture yourself going to something like that.”
Burke goes to school part time at both Garden City High School and the Long Island High School of the Arts, studying guitar, audio recording, music theory and music history at the latter. He also plays guitar in the band No Good News.
He’s not sure where his music career will take him, but covering the Grammys isn’t a bad way to prepare.
“I learned a ton about the music industry,” he said. “And I just look up to all these people.”