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Black Artists, Black Music & The Need For Validation

    Watching the Grammy Awards this year was like waiting for the end of a terribly bad movie that you’ve seen one too many times before. You know the plot, have memorized the dialogue, and yet you wait for that horribly scripted ending as if it’ll magically change or somehow be better than the last time you saw it. Sadly, in this case, it didn’t.

    I should’ve known that the Grammys were going to be disappointing when I noticed on the commercial advertisements for the show not one black artist (aside from Pharrell Williams who had the chart-topping hit “Lucky” with Daft Punk) was featured. “Lorde”, “The Beatles”, “Robin Thicke”, “Katy Perry”, “Pink” and “Madonna” were the names advertised. Later on, they added John Legend to the lineup. I’m also pretty sure the Grammy committee decided to add Jay Z and Beyonce’s performance so as to say, “See? We are being diverse”. LL Cool J has been the host for a few years and they always have Stevie Wonder perform (most often to save the show from  being a complete snooze fest) so that doesn’t count.

    While I, and others like myself, were upset at the obvious snubbing of black artists and music, I thought to myself, where are the black artists’ outrage? Why so silent? This is YOUR music…YOUR history…YOUR culture. Black music IS American music. Nearly every dominant genre of music was derived from and made popular by black artists…Blues, Hip Hop, Jazz, R&B, Gospel, Country, Rock & Roll. With that said, Although black music is the cornerstone of American music, it is a crime and a shame that it continues to be discredited, appropriated and ignored. (Most of the awards given to black artists were awarded pre-telecast, of course. R&B singer Lalah Hathaway along with Snarky Puppy, Gary Clark, Jr., Mandisa, Tasha Cobbs and Gregory Porter were a few of the winners. The Isley Brothers were the recipients of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.)

    While I mused over this, singer/songwriter India.Arie publicized her thoughts and truth via Tumblr regarding the blatant disrespect of black artists and music at the Grammys. In her letter, she questions and criticizes the Grammys in a commendable fashion for excluding black artists as performers and for not televising their awards. Here is a brief excerpt.

    Though it’s called “Music industry’s biggest night” the #Grammys are NOT about the music, it’s a popularity contest. The voting process allows people, to vote on name recognition alone – the music industry politics is a whole NUTHER conversation.  Too much to go into here. NOW the BIGGER losers, are ALL of black music….

    Where was the black music community represented in last nights #Grammy show? Performers and Winners (or not) … Where were the black artists?…..

    And this isn’t the first time the #Grammy’s has had a show all but excluding young black America and black artists in general, although we set the worlds musical trends. Why NOT televise the lifetime achievement awards of the Isley Brothers? SURELY they deserved to be on televised stage LAST NIGHT! While other artists were on stage TWICE? ~ India Arie viaTumblr

    My thoughts exactly.

    Like many others who watched the show, I watched and tweeted my thoughts while inwardly seething at the obvious slight, propaganda and politics that were transpiring before my very eyes. A few times I actually changed the channel, but curiosity pulled me back. THIS was supposed to be music’s “biggest” night? Really? I wasn’t surprised at Macklemore & Ryan Lewis dominating the rap awards, Justin Timberlake winning in an R&B category, or even Madonna parading on stage looking like a character from Django (after calling her son “dis n*gga” on Instagram) because, sadly, I expected this. The committee is out of touch and is made up of people who don’t know or even listen to music. They’re only going by what’s popular or who’s on the radio. Who was more disappointed in was myself for expecting validation from an institution (much like the Academy Awards) that was not created for nor actually cared about us anyway.

    This is not to say that the Grammys aren’t important and to discredit those who have received them. It’s the most prestigious award and achievement in music to earn, like a championship ring in NBA basketball. However, an artist’s Grammys or lack thereof doesn’t make me love or respect them any less. Marvin Gaye in his lifetime only earned 2 Grammys. Prince only has 7. Sade has 4. James Brown only earned 3 while music greats like Jimi Hendrix, Nas, Public Enemy, Biggie and 2Pac fail to even have one “sippy cup” to call theirs.

    So what now? After all this blows over and all the posts have been written and the show has been analyzed from start to finish, what will we do now? Wait until the the next mainstream awards show to tweet and post our outrage and disdain yet again? Or perhaps wait until one of our shows like the NAACP Image Awards or BET Awards air to joke and laugh at how low-budget they are? Or will we start actually supporting our black artists and perhaps pass on a few checks if it means preserving the culture that our music was built on?  Hopefully we’ll start uplifting and supporting our black artists and not being so quick to label them “flops” or “irrelevant” when their sales don’t measure up to mainstream artists.

    Thank you, India.Arie, for speaking out and telling the truth. It took courage and boldness to voice your opinions in an industry that frowns on individuality and the ability to think outside of the norm. Hopefully more of our black artists will have the courage to speak out and not only speak, but put actions behind their words. We can’t expect other races to bestow honors on us, if we don’t appreciate and honor ourselves. It starts at home. It starts with us.