October 28, 2021

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3 Grammy Nominees for Best Children’s Music Album Ask to Withdraw Nods Due to Lack of Diversity

This year’s two other nominees in that category, Justin Roberts and Joanie Leeds, didn’t sign the letter asking to be removed as nominees, but made it clear that they support the other nominees’ aims.

It’s unclear, though, if the Academy will honor the artists’ request to not to be nominated. As of Monday (Jan. 4), the last day of voting for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards, the Academy had not removed the three artists’ names from their online list of nominees. Billboard reached out to the Academy to find out why the artists’ names still appear, and whether the Academy allows artists to decline nominations, but hadn’t heard back by the time of publication.

Moock, the Okee Dokee Brothers and Dog on Fleas say that it is “not an aberration” that there is so little diversity in the category this year.

Their letter reads: “In the past 10 years, only about 6% of nominated acts have been Black-led or co-led, another 8% or so have been non-Black-POC [person of color]-led, and around 30% have been female led. These numbers would be disappointing in any category, but—in a genre whose performers are unique tasked with modeling fairness, kindness, and inclusion; in a country where more than half of all children are non-white; and after a year of national reckoning around race and gender—the numbers are unacceptable.”

They point to the lack of a nomination this year for Pierce Freelon’s acclaimed D.a.D, which blends elements of hip-hop, jazz, electronic and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. D.a.D was among the 84 albums that were entered in the category.

Freelon was touched by the support from the nominees. “I just couldn’t think of another example in my memory of white men specifically revoking their privilege in this way,” he told NPR.

Freelon is the son of jazz vocalist and arranger Nnenna Freelon, who received five Grammy nominations from 1996-2005.

The Recording Academy’s Valeisha Butterfield Jones seems to agree with the nominees’ criticism. Jones, who joined the academy in May 2020 as its first chief diversity, equity & inclusion officer, released a statement which read in part: “Fostering more opportunities for women and people of color in the music community is one of the Recording Academy’s most urgent priorities. In launching the Black Music Collective and partnering with Color of Change, among other initiatives, we have been making progress and…we will continue to push for even greater inclusion and representation.”

Jones added that she had met with Family Music Forward, a group that was formed in early 2020 to advance the cause of bringing more diversity to children’s music. “We are confident that together our industry can keep moving forward.”

In the nine years since the Recording Academy streamlined its category structure, the award for best children’s music album has gone to a female solo artist or female-led group four times, a male solo artist or duo four times and a Various Artists album (All About Bullies…Big and Small) once.

The women who have won the award in this time frame are Jennifer Gasoi, Neela Vaswani, ’90s pop star Lisa Loeb and Lucy Kalantari & the Jazz Cats. Vaswani won for reading a children’s book about famed Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. Kalantari was born in the U.S. to a Dominican mother and a Puerto Rican father.

Before the current category structure took effect, several Black artists won in children’s categories (though all were celebrities, not children’s artists per se). Bill Cosby won the 1971 and 1972 awards for Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs and The Electric Company, on which he teamed with Rita Moreno. Other Black winners in children’s categories include Michael Jackson (ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, 1983), Bobby McFerrin (The Elephant’s Child, with Jack Nicholson, 1987), Wynton Marsalis (Listen to the Storyteller, with Graham Greene and Kate Winslet, 1999) and Ziggy Marley (Family Time, 2009).

In a statement, Family Music Forward (FMF), a collective of Black, POC and white artists in the family music industry, said “FMF thanks all of the people, including artists and others, who posted on social media and initiated conversations about this issue. We recognize that it takes courage to speak out in protest of systemic inequality in our industry, and we commend you for joining the chorus of voices.”

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