First, let's get the technical stuff out of the way -- here is the list of the nominees for Best Children's Album, with the winner to be announced Feb. 12:
All About Bullies... Big And Small - Various Artists (James Cravero, Gloria Domina, Kevin Mackie, Steve Pullara & Patrick Robinson, producers)
Are We There Yet? - The Papa Hugs Band
Fitness Rock & Roll - Miss Amy
GulfAlive - The Banana Plant
I Love: Tom T. Hall's Songs of Fox Hollow - Various Artists (Eric Brace & Peter Cooper, producers)
OK, now that I have that out of the way.
Now, let it first be said that I totally expected the GRAMMYs' decision to combine 2 children's categories into one to spell a death knell for independent artists. I was obviously completely wrong, seeing as all five nominees are independently produced. So make of that what you will regarding my understanding of the GRAMMY process.
Let me then say (as I said last night on Facebook) congratulations to all the nominees. I'm sure it feels incredible, and I would guess that all the folks involved have put a tremendous amount of effort into not only these albums but also their careers. For example, I met Amy Otey - AKA Miss Amy, one of the nominees -- at Kindiefest last year and I know that she and her husband Alex are a) nice people, and b) committed to what they do.
I don't think it's a contradiction in terms, however, if I say in the very next breath that this list in many ways has nothing to do with kids music today. I can be glad for the individual nominees without thinking that it is a group particularly reflective of the genre.
Now, I don't like confrontations, and so if it sounds like I'm stepping on eggshells, well, I probably am. I received e-mails from a number of different folks who were... less delicate than I in expressing their... frustration with the list. That's why I (almost literally) slept on this post to make sure the cold light of day wouldn't change my feelings or moderate my thoughts.
For the record, if I were to choose my favorite of the nominees, it would be the Tom T. Hall tribute. (I did, after all, review the album favorably for NPR.) Also, I've only heard four of the albums (sorry, Papa Hugs). But my concern with the list is not necessarily that the albums I really liked weren't nominated. It's more that it's hard to characterize that list as fully reflecting kids music today.
It's not that the Wiggles are anywhere near my first choice to be nominated, but there's no doubt that the "kids these days" are still listening to the multi-colored men from Down Under. I'd hate to see that getting nominated for (or winning) a GRAMMY once is the de facto way to get nominated again, but from that perspective, Beethoven's Wig or Dan Zanes or Trout Fishing in America would seem to be at least up for consideration. What about TV shows like Jake and the Never Land Pirates? All of those artists are folks who tour nationally (or whose show is shown nationally), whose music should have been exposed (or at least potentially exposed) to a wide variety of families in different settings.
I know that at least a couple of the albums tangentially address those concerns. The I Love album is a compilation with a number of nationally-known artists. But it's also an album made by folks who don't typically record for kids and probably won't again. (The fact that it is a tribute album to a famous kids' album does ameliorate the concern there.) The All About Bullies... album -- in which, I should note, I was thanked in the liner notes -- does feature a wide of kindie artists who have lent (mostly previously-released) tracks to the project or have recorded spoken-word tracks. But the compilation nature of the album makes it an odd bird -- it's more like a movie soundtrack that pulls in some popular tracks to fill out the original work.
Last year, when They Might Be Giants were nominated along with Pete Seeger and Justin Roberts, as well as the Battersby Duo and Judy Pancoast, I at least thought that it represented the genre decently -- might not have been the best five albums in my view, but it combined veterans with newer artists, everyone with at least some participation in the genre. And there was a palpable sense of rooting interest for Roberts on the part of many other kids' musicians, a recognition that Jungle Gym was a special album and should be considered against the juggernaut that is one of my two or three favorite bands in the world (They Might Be Giants) and a living legend (that would be Pete).
When Pete Seeger won last year for Tomorrow's Children, it was not for his best work. It was a competently-produced album, but he won because he sang about pollution with kids, and, more importantly, he's Pete freakin' Seeger. The man should have so many GRAMMYs he's using them as key holders. So it's hard to begrudge him the win. But it, like Kids Corner's Kathy O' Connell has pointed out about all this year's nominees, seemed designed more about the "good work" of the theme rather than organically about musical expression.
For better or worse, this year's nominees have no "must-hear" album, the album that musicians -- who make up the largest component of the GRAMMY voting base -- raved about all year. Just as importantly, this year's nominees have no star or even semi-big name in the kids' world in the list. Any one of the nominees as part of a broader nominee list would have been acceptable, even healthy. But the list taken as a whole seems pretty detached from who's making kids music these days.
Even if you accept my argument that the nominee list isn't reflective of the kids music genre as a whole, the real question is, so what?
If you don't like the GRAMMYs, then ignore them. But the fact remains that the GRAMMYs are still the biggest recognition of music in the country. It does, in some small way, affect perceptions of music, no matter the genre. There are tens of thousands of artists who would dream of holding a GRAMMY, probably in part because they want the recognition of their peers and because they've seen musicians they and many others look up to also holding a tiny, shiny gramophone. While the nominee list would give encouragement to other artists that they, too, could be nominated for a GRAMMY, it seems less likely that the albums themselves would encourage other artists to make albums that should be nominated for a GRAMMY.