2021 Grammy Award Nominees Decline, Citing Outrage At All-White Category The Okee Dokee Brothers, Alastair Moock and Dog on Fleas — three of five acts nominated in the best children's album category — share their equity-based rationalizations for declining the ballot.
NPR logo

3 Grammy Contenders Share Outrage At All-White Category, Decline Nominations

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/951420019/953146925" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
3 Grammy Contenders Share Outrage At All-White Category, Decline Nominations

3 Grammy Contenders Share Outrage At All-White Category, Decline Nominations

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/951420019/953146925" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Grammy Awards will be handed out this month virtually, and there's a twist in the kids category. Three of the five acts nominated for best children's album are saying thanks, but no thanks. They're protesting the fact that the category only includes white nominees. Here's NPR's Mandalit del Barco.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Alastair Moock's Grammy-nominated album, "Be A Pain," is about American heroes who stood up for their principles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT IS A LEADER?")

ALASTAIR MOOCK: (Singing) What is a leader? What does a leader do? Oh, what is a leader? What does leading mean to you?

DEL BARCO: The Boston-based singer-songwriter was nominated along with three other white male acts and one white woman.

MOOCK: I smacked my head. After this year, to have an all-white slate of nominees seemed really tone deaf.

DEL BARCO: Of course, Moock says he'd love to get a Grammy.

MOOCK: But I don't want it like this where the playing field's not even.

DEL BARCO: He's protesting by turning down his nomination; so is the band Dog on Fleas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M AN OPTIMIST")

DOG ON FLEAS: (Singing) I'm an optimist. I'm an optimist. Yeah.

DEL BARCO: The Okee Dokee Brothers also declined the nomination for their album "Songs For Singin'."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOPE MACHINE")

OKEE DOKEE BROTHERS: (Singing) Ha dee o lay hee hee, ha dee o lay hee hee (ph).

DEL BARCO: Joe Mailander is one of the Okee Dokee Brothers.

JOE MAILANDER: We thought that it was the strongest thing we could do to stand with people of color whose albums are too often left out of the Grammy nominations. This is not just white guys with guitars playing for kids. We want to welcome all different types of music to this community.

DEL BARCO: The Okee Dokee Brothers, Moock and Dog on Fleas, all white guys with guitars, sent a letter to the Recording Academy asking that their names be removed from the final Grammy ballots. The other Okee Dokee Brother, Justin Lansing, says they couldn't in good conscience benefit from a process that has historically overlooked women and artists of color.

JUSTIN LANSING: In this genre, where us as performers are uniquely tasked with modeling fairness and kindness to kids and families and inclusion, you know, we just feel like something needs to change.

DEL BARCO: Last month, the nominees met with the Recording Academy's new CEO, Harvey Mason Jr., and its first ever chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, Valeisha Butterfield Jones. She says the 63-year-old organization is being revamped.

VALEISHA BUTTERFIELD JONES: We have made a very clear and firm commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as a part of our core values. So I think many of the actions that we've taken and have put into place, you know, are signs of that, but we still have a lot of work left to do.

DEL BARCO: Butterfield Jones says what the Academy has done since she started her job in May is to partner with the racial justice group Color Of Change to begin holding record companies and the Academy more accountable. The organization is also pushing for more transparency and support for artists, especially those who are Black. Family Music Forward, a collective whose mission is to amplify Black voices in children's music, was also invited to the Recording Academy meetings last month.

AARON NIGEL SMITH: We had the floor, and we had the opportunity to voice our concerns. They definitely responded with a sense of urgency.

DEL BARCO: Aaron Nigel Smith is a founding member of the collective that formed earlier this year inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

SMITH: You know, we left it in a very hopeful tone that we can keep a discussion going and work together to increase membership with people of color in the Academy in order to get a better pool of people voting for projects that don't necessarily sound like the mainstream, that might sound like it's got an African vibe or a reggae vibe or a hip-hop vibe, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DADDY DAUGHTER DAY")

PIERCE FREELON: (Singing) Daddy-daughter day, daddy-daughter day.

DEL BARCO: One of the artists all of the musicians interviewed for this story agreed should have been nominated is Pierce Freelon for his critically acclaimed album "D.a.D"

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DADDY DAUGHTER DAY")

FREELON: (Rapping) Yeah, daddy-daughter day, girl. What up? Right now, we can go anywhere you wanna. Roller skating rink to the movies, chillin' at the house. Maybe later on, we could go get a banana float. Yeah.

DEL BARCO: Freelon says he appreciates the stance the Grammy nominees took to support diverse artists, and he points to others who should be on the Grammy's radar, including Saul Paul, a rapper from Texas; Uno, Dos, Tres Andres, a bilingual singer born in Colombia; and the 96-year-old folk singer Ella Jenkins.

FREELON: She's probably the most prolific and foundational person in children's music, and she's a Black woman. But guess what? She's never won a Grammy Award through the Recording Academy process. They had to give her a honorary lifetime achievement award, but she actually never got that recognition from her peers in the industry.

DEL BARCO: One of the two Grammy nominees who decided to remain on the ballot is Joanie Leeds. Her ninth children's folk music album is titled "For All The Ladies" (ph).

JOANIE LEEDS: I didn't decline because my album is really about empowering young women. I mean, I have 20 women on my album, so for us, it was kind of counter to our empowering women message to step down.

DEL BARCO: The other nominees and Family Music Forward say they support Leeds' decision. Next time, they expect to see more women and people of color up for Grammy Awards. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF GIRLS RULED THE WORLD")

LEEDS: (Singing) Girls, girls, if girls ruled the world. Girls, girls, if girls ruled the world.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.