Bloomington Mardi Gras
I would like to give a gift subscription to my brother for Christmas. It is the only thing he wanted and needed. He has had a few really rough years of late. He runs a pub in Bloomington, Indiana called Players Pub, he has all kinds of music playing there from blues, jazz, to open mic night. He just fell in love with your city and Mardi Gras. He even started his own krewe, “Monkeyheads.” We have a Skull and Bones krewe that starts our Mardi Gras off at 6 a.m. and continues at the pub until about 4 p.m. with a sidewalk parade. Pubgoers dress in costumes and come from as far as Vermont to attend every year. He even has bands from the Big Easy like Bonerama and Jason Ricci.
I just want to give my brother something he can look forward to every month. I know he truly enjoys reading it. He consults it like his holy grail when we can afford to come to the Big Easy for Mardi Gras. We come down the weekend the parades start so we can collect beads to bring back to BTown for our parade and party.
—Dena Estivill, Bloomington, Indiana
Banned by the Grammys
The following letter is in response to Chris Thomas King’s open letter saying he’s been banned by the Grammys.—Ed.
I am a longtime Grammy member/voter and I want to say it honestly pains me to read Chris Thomas King’s open letter on the OffBeat website.
I’m familiar with the workings of Grammy selection committees (but not in the Blues field) with which Chris takes issue. May I help clear the air? These opinions are my own.
Some background: There are around 80 Grammy categories now. That’s well over 300 nominees each year. I urge readers to look over those nominees in total. These nominees and winners are not “continuing a racist trope” in his words. You will not see corporate overlords dictating pop sales. Yes, the larger pop music categories can be popularity contests. I get that. The Rolling Stones did indeed win a Blues Grammy for their recent all-blues album (even after all these decades, only their third competitive Grammy).
Alas, in many creative awards arenas, marketing/sales efforts sometimes triumph over craft.
But I think the Recording Academy has made the effort to find a balance. Look at the less-hyped categories, year after year, and see some very worthy authentic roots artists get honored and have their careers boosted. (Lost Bayou Ramblers, anyone?)
In the distant past, the Grammys had a few thousand entries each submitted year. This year, 2018, they will sort, categorize, and attempt to apply uniform consideration to over 20,000 recordings. There are 22 screening committees, each with around a dozen carefully vetted experts and musicians in that field, who volunteer their time. There is robust debate. But in the end, I can assure you, there is a strict adherence to fairness and an equal playing field.
There has to be a consistent definition for each genre—again, in the name of fairness. Yet Academy definitions for genres don’t always align with an individual’s definitions. Some fusion artists may even suggest we let go of all the genres. But then what? Whom get honored, and how?
People who commented on Chris’ open letter, after listening to his whole album, say they heard some wonderful blues, but also say they heard an excellent fusion of a variety of non-blues genres, done with creativity and passion. Chris was not “removed from the ballot” or “banished” (his words) from the Grammys. That would be a travesty. While Chris is a blues artist, his current album was deemed not predominantly a blues album, but rather a better fit in the Best Americana Album category. I respectfully submit this is not an “usurpation of his culture.” It is an equally worthy category, where Rosanne Cash, Levon Helm, Mavis Staples and William Bell have been honored in the past. Let’s talk.
I don’t speak on behalf of NARAS; in the end I’m a fan who holds Mr. King’s artistry in the highest regard. Anyone is welcome to apply to join the Recording Academy and help make a very complicated process run smoothly each year. I just want everyone to know each committee decision is carefully considered, and race plays no factor. We are music-loving people as passionate as Chris Thomas King, trying to do our best.
—Tom Roche, New Orleans, Louisiana