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Nammys take root with 5th annual show

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. ? When the Native American Music Awards make their Midwest debut here Sept. 7, a major new institution of native culture will mark its coming of age.

Now in its fifth year, the Nammys have made an appearance in nearly every region of Indian country and have immeasurably heightened the visibility of native performers in mainstream culture. Since the launch of the Nammys in a sold-out show at the Foxwoods Casino Resort in Connecticut in 1998, the number of native record releases has grown steadily and the Recording Academy, sponsors of the Grammy awards, has acknowledged the vitality of the music with its own Native American category.

The vast majority of Indian country, especially the performers and their fans, has accepted the Nammy award show as an arbiter and sounding board for Indian music, even though its founder and president Ellen Bello is Irish and Italian, with no claim at all of Indian heritage.

"And she's a babe, too," says Robert Mirabal, the Nammy-winning flutist.

This year's show, at the Marcus Amphitheater, will be hosted by Crystal Gayle and feature 10 live performances. Recognition will come in more than 30 categories, a new high with the addition of Best Christian/Gospel Recording award.

According to Nammy executive director Donald Kelly, "The music of this year's nominees span sounds and styles known and unknown, ranging from the traditional to the modern or contemporary including Celtic, Latin and Christian-influenced music to a tribal dance remix of Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' and a pow wow version of 'Who Let the Dogs Out.'"

Initial nominations included over 140 national recordings, a new high. In a unique feature among award shows, the general public selected the final nominees in large part through Internet voting at a site that provided samples of the music.

Indian Summer Festivals, which is presenting its annual Indian Cultural Festival the same weekend at Milwaukee's Maier Festival Park, is joining in presenting the Nammys. The show is also being presented by the Forest County Potawatomi Tribal Community, with sponsorship from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the Oneida Indian Nation of New York.

Koahnic Broadcasting will host a taped radio broadcast of the show, to be distributed through the AIROS network.

The live performers include:

Bill Miller, the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican balladeer, who has made a name in mainstream country and folk circles for the last two decade.

Micki Free, Cherokee and Comanche heritage, who began his career as a rock musician with the rock group Shalamar and won a Grammy for the soundtrack of the Eddie Murphy movie "Beverly Hills Cop" before returning to his native roots. He is nominated in three categories.

Howard Lyons, a ballad singer from the Mohawk Wolf Clan who is nominated for record of the year and songwriter of the year.

Verdell Primeaux and Johnny Mike, the traditional singers with roots in the Native American Church, who won last year's Native American Grammy.

Gary Small, with special guest Graham Lear of Santana. A member of the Northern Cheyenne, Small and his own band are leaders in native blues music.

Felipe Rose, a native New Yorker of Taino (Puerto Rico) and Lakota Sioux heritage, an original member of the Village People (the one in the headdress).

Also performing will be Jana, nominee for song of the year, and Martha Redbone, a newcomer with nominations in four categories.