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Native Artists Gain Ground With 2013 Grammy Nominations

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Prior to the 2012 Grammy Awards, the Recording Academy saw fit to discontinue the Best Native American Album and the Best Hawaiian Music Album categories. Music that would have qualified for those categories was grouped under the "Regional Roots Music" rubric with that from the also-discontinued genres of Cajun/Zydeco and polka.

Carlos Santana, a 10-time Grammy winner, led a charge of outrage at the decision, saying "I think they're racist. Period."

Under the new system, material from all these categories would not necessarily compete for the Regional Roots Music Album Grammy -- submitted albums would compete for nominations, with no requirement that any from a genre be nominated at all. This selection process was not kind to Native artists for the 2012 Grammy Awards: Nominated were three Cajun/Zydeo albums, one polka album, one Hawaiian album, and zero Native American albums. The award was won by the New Orleans-based Rebirth Brass Band.

The 2013 nominees were announced yesterday, and Native artists stand a better shot at winning a trophy this time around. This year, the Regional Roots category features one album from the Native American genre, and two of Hawaiian music. 

Radmilla Cody's album Shi Keyah: Songs for the People, made with her uncle Herman Cody and released on the Canyon Records label, received a nomination. Cody is a former Miss Navajo Nation (1997-98) whose life has been haunted by controversy; first, over her racial identity (she has an African American father, though she grew up on the Navajo Nation speaking the Navajo language) and then over her involvement in drug trafficking (she wired money to a boyfriend, a dealer, knowing that it would be used to buy drugs). For the latter, she ended up serving 21 months in jail.

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Yet Cody survived her challenges and is regarded by many in Indian country as an inspirational figure. Her relationship with the drug-dealing boyfriend, who was by some accounts a major figure in the drug trade, was an abusive one; she has since become an advocate for the fight against domestic abuse. In 2002, Cody sang the "Star Spangled Banner" in Navajo at the Kennedy Center to acknowledge the achievement of astronaut John Herrington, the first enrolled member of an Indian tribe to visit outer space.

Earlier today, Cody announced the news of her nomination on her Facebook page. "This is a blessing from the Holy Ones and my late Shimasoni, Dorothy Cody," she wrote, referring to the grandmother who raised her, who passed away a month ago. Cody continued:

I am grateful to everyone who has supported my Uncle Herman Cody and me during our musical journey. As a child, I grew up singing and admiring the late Whitney Houston with the dream of someday becoming a singer. As I sit here and reflect on my childhood, such blessings also came from the sheep and goats that patiently listened to my morning and evening performances in the corral. And for those moments, I am grateful and humbled.

This accomplishment does not only extend to my Uncle Herman and me, but to the Dine’ Nation and the many supporter’s who have stood by my side. Ahe’hee’ from the bottom of my heart. My Uncle Herman and I are grateful to each and every one of you for your love, support, encouragement, and loyalty.

The Hawaiian-music albums nominated are Malama Ko Aloha (Keep Your Love), by Keola Beamer, and Pilialoha, by Weldon Kekauoha.