Grammy Come, Grammy Go

I have a hard time feeling a sense of great injustice for the Recording Academy’s decision to consolidate categories, in the process wiping the Best Cajun/Zydeco Album category. I’d prefer that they still have it, but the reasons are largely selfish for the region. It has helped drive local membership in NARAS (a good thing) and encouraged recording activity (a good thing), but there’s little evidence that it’s done a lot more. I hope it has raised the profile of the Pine Leaf Boys, who were nominated in three of the award’s four years  in existence, but in my piece on the impact of Treme, Wilson Savoy suggested that the show had done more along those lines.

In the award’s brief life, it went to Terrance Simien, BeauSoleil, Buckwheat Zydeco (for his least zydeco album in years) and Chubby Carrier. There are enough high profile names in there make you wonder if Grammy voters were voting based on name recognition as much as for the music, and if that’s the case, the award isn’t really helping anybody. Since it has been given at the “pre-tel,” it hasn’t garnered national airtime for its recipients, and as one of more than 100 categories—until yesterday—its presence on the ballot likely did equally little for the nominees. Grammy voters don’t vote for everything—a smart effort to keep people from voting in categories where they know nothing—but that likely means that few voters even considered the Best Cajun or Zydeco Album category (or Best Native American Album or Best Hawaiian Album—the categories that have been united in the Best Regional Roots Music category). One writer who has covered the Grammys for years speculates that fewer than 250 people cast votes for the award.

“Among our many fundamental responsibilities to our members and the music community is to ensure that the Grammy remains a rare and distinct honor,” Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow said yesterday at a press conference explaining the changes. If some awards are being decided by a few voters, that’s not happening, and when there are more than a hundred categories, the Academy seemed to be inching its way closer to an award for everybody. It’s a shame that after the hard work of the Simiens, the Cajun/Zydeco award has been reorganized out of existence, but Cajun and zydeco artists won Grammys before 2008, and they’ll win again—just not competing solely against each other. “Every submission will have a home,” Portnow said. “But it might look a little different.”