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Americana Diversity at the Grammys

Yola - Four Grammy nominations.

Overdue efforts to achieve greater diversity in the recording and performing arts could reap rewards for Americana artists at the 62nd Grammy Awards at the end of the month.

Leading the charge are three black artists – Keb Mo, J.S. Ondara and Yola – who fill three out of the five nominations for the Best Americana Album Award.

Keb Mo is a generation or two apart from both J.S. Ondara and Yola. He has been at the forefront of roots/blues music for more than 40 years, producing at least a dozen studio albums and contributing to countless others. He has won four Grammys, all for Best Contemporary Blues album. Though nominated twice, he has not yet won an Americana Grammy.

He gets his chance this year when he is short-listed for his 2019 album Oklahoma, a likeable collection of original material with guest artists like Rosanne Cash and long-time collaborator Taj Mahal, among others. There is even a delightful duet – fittingly-titled “Beautiful Music” - with wife Robbie Brooks Moore.

Up against Keb are two artists nominated for their very-first albums.

J.S. Ondara is an Kenyan singer-songwriter, now based in Minnesota, whose debut album Tales of America was released last February. As a boy, so the story goes, he wrote poems and songs without an instrument because his family could not afford to buy him one.

Nowadays, he mixes in top company, opening for the likes of Neil Young, Lindsey Buckingham and the Milk Carton Kids on tour last year.

British sensation Yola is also from unprivileged past. She burst onto the Americana scene last year with her debut album Walk Through Fire, produced by Dan Auerbach. It earned her U.K. Americana Artist of the Year and a number of nominations at the 2019 Americana Music Awards in Nashville.

And she dominates the Americana division at the 62nd Grammys, with four nominations. Besides album of the year, her single “Faraway Look” is nominated for both Best American Roots Song and best American Roots Performance.

And in the general category, she is a finalist for Best New Artist.

Further endorsement of diversity in Americana sees high-profile African American female artists Rhiannon Giddens and Amythyst Kiah also among the Grammy nominees.

Giddens - along with Francesco Turrisi - has been nominated for Best American Roots Performance with “I’m On My Way,” while Kiah is a Best American Roots Song nominee for writing “Black Myself” – a song performed by Our Native Daughters, her recent collaboration with Giddens, Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell.

The 2020 Grammy Awards are set for January 26 at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles.

American Roots Music Field for the 62nd annual Grammys:

Best Americana Album:

Years to Burn — Calexico and Iron & Wine

Who Are You Now — Madison Cunningham

Oklahoma — Keb Mo

Tales of America — J.S. Ondara

Walk Through Fire — Yola

Best American Roots Performance:

"Saint Honesty" — Sara Bareilles

"Father Mountain" — Calexico and Iron & Wine

"I'm On My Way" — Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi

"Call My Name" — I'm With Her

"Faraway Look" — Yola

Best American Roots Song:

“Black Myself” — Amythyst Kiah, songwriter (Our Native Daughters)

“Call My Name” — Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O'Donovan & Sara Watkins, songwriters (I'm With Her)

“Crossing to Jerusalem” — Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal, songwriters (Rosanne Cash)

“Faraway Look” — Dan Auerbach, Yola & Pat McLaughlin, songwriters (Yola)

“I Don't Wanna Ride the Rails No More” – Vince Gill, songwriter (Vince Gill)


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