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Drum groups, peyote singers compete for 2002 Grammys

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. ? Traditional music dominated the 2002 Grammy nominations for the Best Native American Music Album, speeding talk that the category is due for expansion.

The six albums announced at a Jan. 4 press conference at the Beverly Hilton Hotel included four drum groups, a pow wow compilation and the peyote singers Verdell Primeaux and Johnny Mike.

Two of the entries also appeared in last year's first-ever Native American category, the Black Lodge Singers and the 2001 Grammy winner, that year's Gathering of Nations compilation album.

Canyon Records took the lion's share of the nominations, four in all, and Tom Bee's Sound of America Records received the rest. Bee and his colleague Douglas Spotted Eagle won the first Native American Grammy last year for the 1999 Gathering of Nations recording.

Black Lodge founder Kenny Scabby Robe and a procession of his sons were popular figures at last year's Grammy presentations, where their sober black suits contrasted strongly with the garish semi-nudity of performers in other categories. The family group is in the running again this year with the album "Weasel Tail's Dream" dedicated to the performers' late grandfather Jim Weasel Tail.

The group, based in White Swan, Wash., on the Yakima Indian Reservation, is headed by Scabby Robe, a Blackfeet from Montana, and largely drawn from his 12 sons. It is famous for its original contemporary style pow wow songs, including a children's compilation inspired by cartoon characters.

The other drum groups are Young Bird from Pawnee, Okla., featuring southern-style singing; Northern Cree from Saddle Lake, Alberta; and Black Eagle, specialists in the hand drum and round dance.

The category is broadened in the religious direction this year by the entry of Primeaux and Mike, singers in the peyote ceremonies of the Native American Church. Their melodies have influenced well known artists like Robbie Robertson and won recognition from independent label award shows. They have won a New Age Voice Music award and a Native American Music Award.

Verdell Primeaux, a native of Scottsbluff, Neb., claims Oglala/Yankton Lakota and Ponca heritage. His mother, Delores Arapahoe, Oglala Lakota, is a descendant of Red Cloud and Crazy Horse. Johnny Mike is Dine from Kitsili, Black Mesa, Ariz., on the mother's side from the Near the Water People and on the father's from the Salt Clan. His grandparents were some of the first Navajo to use peyote, at a time when the Nation government sought to suppress the Native American Church.

The absence of performers from more social styles such as blues and rap lends support to those arguing that the category should be divided to accommodate the broad range of Indian music. This argument has drawn support from Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Inc., which administers the Grammys. Greene has actively sought to recruit Indian musicians for the Recording Academy.

This year's awards, the 44th, will be presented at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 27.