Fan Fare

Entertainment behind the scenes

Grammy downsizing tunes out musicians in niche categories

By Dean Goodman
April 11, 2011

Grammy organizers are turning the clock back more than two decades by deciding to slash the number of categories at next year’s awards ceremony to 78 from 102. It marks the smallest field since 1990, when music industry voters infamously named pioneering lip-synching duo Milli Vanilli best new artist.

buddyIn a logical move, many vaguely similar categories are being combined — traditional blues and contemporary blues (the latter won this year by Buddy Guy, pictured at left); traditional folk and contemporary folk; hard rock and metal; banda and norteno; children’s musical and spoken word.

Even with the explosive growth in categories — from 28 at the first ceremony in 1959, to 41 in 1969, to 76 in 1989 — some categories have fallen by the wayside over the years. The Grammys have never felt the same since polka was dropped after the 2009 ceremony.

The latest downsizing certainly makes journalists’ live easier. All but 10 or so awards are given out during a fast-paced two-hour ceremony immediately preceding the live telecast, making it very difficult to keep track of winners and trends. Grammy officials never provide individual tallies or historical data, turning the whole event into a vast mathematical exercise for frazzled scribes paranoid about miscalculations.

Still, the cuts will rob some hard-working musicians of their place in the spotlight. Where else do artists in niche categories such as Native American Music Album and Zydeco or Cajun Music Album get to bask in such mainstream glory? The former category was launched with great hubbub in 2001, and the winner unveiled during the live telecast that year. Contenders in those two discontinued categories will still get a shot next year, in a brand new omnibus category dubbed Regional Roots Music Album. It will also include the Hawaiian Music Album category, dropped after just six years.

The winner in two of those years was a Hollywood actress few might associate with the genre. But Tia Carrere, perhaps best known for her roles in “Wayne’s World” and “True Lies,” is a bona fide musical superstar in her native Aloha State. She now has the historic honor of being the final winner of the Hawaiian Music Grammy, taking home the prize in February for “Huana Ke Aloha.” tia

A philosophical Carrere reacted via email while maintaining a busy travel schedule. “While I am sorry that some beautiful and, more importantly, distinctly different indigenous music appears to have been marginalized by (The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences), I understand that the sheer number of categories had become cumbersome. I twice hosted the pre-telecast where most of the awards are handed out and know this first-hand. 

“As a two-time Grammy winner I am also grateful to have been recognized for my achievement in something about which I am so passionate. I will continue to make the music I love, as will, undoubtedly, my fellow musicians.”

At least the 2012 Grammys should promise an interesting mash-up of contenders in the new categories. How about a rematch for ultimate supremacy among Carrere and fellow reigning champs Chubby Carrier (Zydeco/Cajun) and the various artists from the annual Gathering of Nations Powwow (guess)? As Wayne and Garth would say, “Party time! Excellent!”

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