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Grammy Up for Grabs

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The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences first awarded a Grammy for Best Native American Music Album in 2001. The winner that year was Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, a compilation recorded at the giant annual pow wow held in Albuquerque. This year, another album from the Gathering of Nations has been nominated, along with albums by Bear Creek, Northern Cree and Peter Phippen.

The award recognizes artists producing predominantly “traditional” Native music. Albums could feature some contemporary styles of music, such as pop, rock or country, but a mostly contemporary album would be ineligible. Nominated albums must contain at least 51 percent newly recorded material, according to the category descriptions for the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards. While some in Native music circles have criticized the category’s narrow definition, others consider the exclusivity ideal for showcasing America’s traditional forms of indigenous music.

Bill Miller (Mohican) and Mary Youngblood (Aleut, Seminole) share the record for most Grammy awards in the Best Native Album category, with two apiece. The dominant player is not an artist but a label, Canyon Records, which has specialized in Native music since 1951 and has accumulated 30 Grammy nominations in 11 years. Both Bear Creek and Northern Cree are Canyon artists.

The 2011 Grammy Awards ceremony takes place on February 13. And the nominees are...

Bear Creek, XI: Pow-Wow Songs Recorded Live at San Manuel
Bear Creek (Ojibwe) first performed together at a pow wow 11 years ago in White Earth, Minnesota. Since then, the group from Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario has shaken the pow wow trail with their powerful style. XI is their second album with Canyon Records, and was recorded live at the San Manuel Pow Wow in San Bernardino, California. The material is a mix of pow wow songs in Cree and Ojibwe languages, with lead vocals handled by Kevin Syrette.

Northern Cree, Temptations: Cree Round Dance Songs
From humble beginnings with a borrowed drum, Northern Cree grew into one of the world’s most famous pow wow groups, and are the most celebrated act of this year’s shortlist. Temptations, their 37th album, is their sixth to be nominated for a Grammy. The group hails from Saddle Lake, Alberta and includes members from the Treaty 6 area of central Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Founding Northern Cree members Steve Wood and his brothers Randy and Earl started Northern Cree when they found themselves broke and stranded at a stick game tournament in Idaho during the early 1980s; they borrowed a drum from a museum and performed pow wow songs to raise funds for their homeward journey. Northern Cree’s notable accolades include Nammys (Native American Music Awards), a consistent top-five ranking at the World Championship of Song and Dance in Connecticut, and Grammy nominations for albums Rockin’ the Rez (2001), Still Rezin’ (2003), Long Winter Nights (2006), Red Rock (2008), and True Blue (2009). Temptations, a collection of round dance songs recorded live in Hobbema, Alberta, won “Best Hand Drum Album” at the 2010 Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards.

Peter Phippen, Woodnotes Wyld: Historic Flute Sounds From The Dr. Richard W. Payne Collection
The late Dr. Richard Payne was a physician, collector and scholar dedicated to Native American flutes. He was also Peter Phippen’s mentor. With Dr. Payne’s permission, Phippen recorded Woodnotes Wyld, a series of improvisations using his famous collection. Phippen has donated the music from the album, publishing rights, and all royalties to the International Native American Flute Association.

Various artists, 2010 Gathering of Nations Pow Wow: A Spirit’s Dance
Will a Gathering of Nations album win the prize in 2011, as happened in 2001? The current nomination is the third time musicians from the event have been recognized at the Grammys, and a second trophy is a distinct possibility. The lineup of musicians on this album, recorded live at the 27th annual Gathering of Nations, spans the breadth of Indian country, and includes Midnite Express, Tha Tribe, Buck Wild, Eyabay, Hail Creek, Cree Confederation, Head Stone, Rocky Boy, Wild Band of Comanches, Nakoda Nation, Mile High, Eagle Mountain and Cozad.

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