Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Grammy Awards Contemplations

It is interesting that noted music, marketing and advertising impresario Steve Stoute would place a $40,000 full page ad in the New York Times as an open letter to the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). His letter strongly criticized the organization for perceived missteps in the presentation of the Grammy Awards. In Mr. Stoute's opinion, the Grammy Awards "have clearly lost touch with contemporary popular culture."

Stoute wonders how indie rock band Arcade Fire had the Album of the Year.. He says that Justin Bieber was clearly the year's best new artist as opposed to Esperanza Spalding. He wonders why hip hop artists who captured the imagination and pocketbooks of the American music buying public were snubbed award after award. He points out the contradiction that even as those artists were not winners, the Academy had the foresight to present them as performers - all in the name of generating ratings. You can read the entire Steve Stoute letter here, on the Huffington Post.

While I disagree with some of the examples Mr. Stoute uses in his critique of the Grammy Awards (The Joni Letters is absolutely the bomb!! and deserved the honor that year), I have to agree that the Grammy Awards seem a bit mis-directed. We should note here that the Grammy Awards is not a validation of one's popularity based on sales. It is an award presented solely as a result of votes cast by members of the Academy. It is indeed an award of the artist, songwriter, producer, technician's peers.

It also should be noted that the majority of awards in the rap, hiphop, urban, r&b and gospel categories are presented in a "pre-show" that takes place hours before the international telecast. Additionally, there are other categories that the masses of the people will never see. (Did you know that Tia Carrera won for best Hawaiian Album???) There are more than 100 categories and perhaps ten or less make it to the main telecast.

It is during this "pre-show" that I found the most profound disparities particularly in the traditional gospel category.

Patty Griffin
Best Traditional Gospel
In this category, the nominees were Pastor Shirley Ceasar- certainly one of Gospel's Hall of Famers, Marvin Sapp - without a doubt one of gospel's preeminent artists, Karen Clark Sheard - a Grammy Winner from one of gospel's most famous families, Vanessa Bell Armstrong - an renowned gospel artist who made a STRONG comeback, and Patti Griffin, a renowned country/Americana singer/songwriter who happened to make a gospel album. Ms. Griffin walked away with the honor that night.

It is shocking because the traditional gospel category was filled with time honored gospel nominees. And only a few, if any, familiar with the gospel music industry even knew who Patti Griffin was. No Airplay, no Internet buzz, no cognizant place in the gospel arena, yet, she won the Grammy for best Traditional Gospel Album.

So does this demonstrate that the Grammy Awards have lost touch with the cultural identity of the music the Academy purports to support? or is it a sign that the artists and those who labor in these categories do not participate with what the Academy has to offer? Did gospel peers step forth and vote? or did Patti Griffin benefit from her crew getting votes in and then slip away with a win?

Whatever the case, The Grammy Awards should review its process and do a better job of recruiting, retaining and motivating it's electorate because clearly, something is wrong.

For a complete list of Grammy Award nominees and winners, click here.

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