LOS ANGELES - Reaching beyond traditional drum groups, GRAMMY nominations
for the Native music category this year range from the perennial pow wow
favorites the Black Lodge Singers to contemporary singer Bill Miller.
The nomination is the first for Miller, a well respected songwriter who has
performed with singers including Willie Nelson and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder
and who lives in Nashville.
Other nominees, all repeaters, include Black Eagle, flutist Mary Youngblood
and Oneida vocalist Joanne Shenandoah. Winners will be announced at the
nationally televised 47th Annual awards show Feb. 13, 2005, at the Staples
Center in Los Angeles.
The GRAMMYs, the flagship awards ceremony of the Academy of Recording Arts
and Sciences, instituted the Native music award four years ago but still
devotes only one of its 107 categories to the catch-all label. In past
years, traditional drum groups dominated the nominations. Some Native
musicians criticized the neglect of their work in more contemporary genres,
such as rock and rap, but efforts to add further Native categories appear
to have stalled.
By contrast, the Native American Music Awards recently sent out nomination
ballots for more than 30 categories. Its seventh annual awards show is
scheduled for Feb. 10, 2005, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood,
The GRAMMY nomination for Miller extends recognition to a prolific writer
and performer in what is often called the folk/rock genre. Of Mohican and
German parents, Miller grew up on the Stockbridge-Munsee Band reservation
in northern Wisconsin, where much of his family still lives. But his
nomination is being hailed not only in Indian country but also in his
hometown of Nashville.
Miller told Indian Country Today that the Nashville Tenneseean, the main
local paper, featured his picture with a front-page article delighted that
the GRAMMYs were finally recognizing the city for something other than
country music. His own work, he said, spanned blues, rock, folk and Native.
His CD cited by the GRAMMYs "Cedar Dream Songs" featured Native flute
works, both traditional and contemporary.
While on a six-month tour with the singer/song-writer Tori Amos, Miller
recalled, he once asked her how she would classify his music. "'Visionary
rock' is what she called it," he said.
His eclectic style, Miller has said, grew out of his reservation childhood.
"We didn't have much," he told one writer. "There was nothing but woods,
trout and a Zenith radio that picked up AM stations across the country. I'd
hear Barbra Streisand, the Beatles, Stones, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Bob
Dylan. I became a fan of all kinds of good music and the emotion it can
He started playing guitar when he was 9 or 10 and later mastered the Native
flute. His touring career started in 1975 just after high school. As a
college student at the Layton School of Art and Design in Milwaukee and
later at the University of Wisconsin in LaCrosse, he played in a rock band
with fellow students who didn't take it as seriously as I did."
He put out a recording in 1980, the first of 15.
Miller moved to Nashville 20 years ago and still lives there with his wife
and five children but doesn't consider himself part of the "country scene."
"I'm just a musician who lives in Nashville," he said. But he has
co-written with the modern bluegrass eminence Peter Rowan and earned praise
from country giants like Willie Nelson and Charlie Daniels. Ironically, his
current label, the West Coast-based PARAS record company, was just bought
out by Universal, headquartered in Nashville.
He still maintains a busy touring schedule, just returning from a southwest
swing where he performed at the American Indian Law Conference. GRAMMY
weekend will present a travel challenge, however, if he is called on as
usual to appear at the NAMMYs Feb. 10. (Miller makes regular appearances at
the NAMMYs, as winner or presenter. In 2000, he received five NAMMYs for
his album "Ghost Dance", including Artist of the Year, Album of the Year,
Songwriter of the Year and Song of the Year.)
If he does make the bi-coastal Hollywood-to-Hollywood jaunt in February,
Miller said he would leave for Los Angeles several days early to fit in
press and personal appearances. In terms of industry recognition, he said,
just receiving the nomination is a major event.