Linda Chorney Grammy Nomination – A Response

Chorney -  Ukrainian and Jewish (Ashkenazic): nickname for someone with dark skin or dark hair, from Ukrainian chorny ‘black’.

Linda Chorney is aptly named. As the lone question mark on a Grammy Americana Album of the Year nominee list. A list dominated by Americana music stalwarts Ry Cooder, Emmylou Harris. Levon Helm and Lucinda Williams. Chroney is in name as well as in actuality, the dark horse.

As the GRAMMY blogger for the Americana/folk categories I was anticipating the nominees for these are other categorizes like Blugrass, country and wherever else the music I love was being represented  Spotting an unknown name on the Grammy Americana Album of the Year list was surprising and, truth be told, bruised my ego a bit. I pride myself on knowing a thing or two about not just the  mainstream but the fringes of the Americana/Roots music territory. Seeing an unknown name, like happened to me with the Civil Wars and Mumford and Sons in early 2010 when they broke, kind of shakes my taste-maker mojo.

After interviewing Chorney about a week after her nomination I left unconvinced that her style of music fell into my definition of Americana.But after listening to songs over her catalog and watching live performances I could hear hints of artist I’ve seen perform at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and the Americana Music Association showcases. So Okay.

One thing I had no doubt about was that this woman, over her 51 years, had paid her dues. Also that by engaging the GRAMMY365 site, a social site for members of the Grammy organization, to get her music in from of people that influence that nominations, was ingenious.

Some level of naiveté did not prepare me for the considerable scrutiny, contempt and outright venom headed Chorney’s way in the wake of her Grammy nom. Hateful comments on Facebook were posted that attacked her on her very existence within the genre and not her music. As though lake of awareness on the writer was cause enough to dismiss her.

The Americana Music Association, who had a hand in the creation of Americana as a distinct Grammy category,  has even withheld their boiler plate congratulations that is released soon after the nominees are announced. I wonder if their heads will explode if she actually wins.

In balance there were some people of considerable merit (most notably by Kim Ruehl and Paul Schatzkin) that took a more thoughtful approach to the Chroney nomination. They argue that though her music wasn’t their shot of hooch they were able to see Chorneys’s nomination as a testament to indy ethos, DIY perseverance and a performer’s adept ability to adapt in a music business that is undergoing a significant industrial upheaval.

Generally, the arguments against Chorney’s nomination run into two  camps; She hasn’t done time in the Americana community and she somehow cheated her way into the nomination.

The first argument is ridiculous and smacks of the same Nativist logic used by some to argue for building a wall on the Mexican border. “You’re an outsider, you don’t belong and have nothing to contribute. You miust be kept out”Americana, like America herself, is made up of refuges and misfits. Diversity and acceptance are qualities that make up the genres strength. Newcomers are not always appealing to all members (yours truly included.)

The second argument – “she cheated” – Is equally ridiculous. It’s the same augment made by Luddites whenever a new way of doing things disrupts the norm. Automobiles were a “cheat” in a horse culture. Computer were a “cheat” in an analog world. Chorney paid her dues as a singer/songwriter, had n opportunity to create the album of her dreams, and then used a social network to get that album in front of people involved with the Grammys. The album still had to go though the evaluation of members of NARAS and, as is my understand in the case of Americana, a separate genre “expert” panel. There were many checks and balances beyond Chornys personal efforts to lobby for her work.

Chorney is a great example of the new breed of artist-entrepreneur, artists and craftsmen that see technology and a connected world has laid the world at their career doorstep and use every means at their disposal to walk through it.

I think a lot of the bile hurled at Chorney is a result of Americana communities inability to better define what Americana is. As I mentioned I believe this to be a founding strength but it makes others uncomfortable in practice. Some of the ill will, and I know tis because I know the professional background of some of those posting sneering bon-mots online, results from Chroney’s efforts shining a bright light on the PR industry and showing that many of it’s traditional value now lies in the hands of a diligent artist. Instead of reevaluating their place in the entertainment industry they choose to attack rather than adapt.

True until her bid for a nomination on GRAMMY365 Chorney appears to have never heard the term Americana applied as a musical formal genre. Most people haven’t. I bet when many young and established musicians start emulating the influences that enrich the genre, The Band, Parsons, Cash,  their first instinct is not to look for labels but to indulge in the only thing that matters, the music. Do you think that the Avett Brothers or Robert Plant specifically sought out the Americana handbook before creating a work?

The real irony here is that many people that are up in arms about Chorneys nomination are people that over the years have dismissed the Grammys as being out of touch with current music and not representative of the best of music. Her nomination should just further justify their point of view.

Love her or hate her, Chorney is a excellent example when gatekeepers are removed from the music industry.

Below is a video I uncovered showing Chorney playing a show in 2009. I defy anyone to watch it and tell me that there nothing, absolutely NOTHING, that might be considered Americana in her sound (and wardrobe!)


5 Replies to “Linda Chorney Grammy Nomination – A Response”

  1. Pingback: Sea Biscuit (or apparently Sea Matzo, on the home stretch!) « Chorney Blog

  2. For someone accusing Americana stalwarts of being narrow-minded, “let he cast the first stone.” You categorize the anti-Chorney people into two categories: “she’s not Americana” or “she cheated in getting the nomination.” There are plenty of other ways to look at her nomination and still call foul with those two “limiting” categories. How about those who feel she found a way around the “establsihed” ettiquette of receiving recognition. No mention of cheating, but definitiely not playing the same field as the others. Also, you may claim that she’s Americana, but that is your opinion. Other Americana fans have as much right to claim her as “not” Americana sounding.

    There’s nothing that can be done now, she’s on the ballot. However, I truly hope that those who are voting will put all 5 artists on the same playing field (give all of them an equal listen) before making a decision. I’m not a Grammy voter, but I’ve listened to all 5, and I know who my choice would be (and honestly, it would not be Linda).

  3. Matt, thanks for your comment. didn’t man to categorize the people into two categories but the comments I was reading all over Facebook and separate articles fell overwhelmingly into these buckets.

    i just don’t see how Chorney “not playing the same field as the others.” She’s new to the Americana field but so was Robert Plant a few years ago and he was welcomed with open arms. Maybe she should have had the good sense to hire T. Bone Burnett to shepherd her into the hallowed realm.

    I find it interesting a genre that resulted from outsides have morphed into insiders with their own barriers of entry.

  4. Your categorizing of the arguments against the nomination into two categories and then taking on those handpicked arguments is classic strawman. And I think your comparison of those who you say make the first argument to those of a xenophobic mindset is unneccesariy inflammatory. And besides, I think a more accurate way to describe those making the first argument is that she has no following in the Americana/Roots music fan community as opposed to “she hasn’t done her time.” I myself am puzzled that a person who I had never had seen mentioned on any of the roots music blogs I frequent is nominated for best Americana album of the year.

    I think your comparison of Ms Chorney to Robert Plant is flawed. I think it’s safe to say that Robert Plant had a fair amount of good will built up among many in the Americana/Roots community before he even put out his last two albums. A lot of us are old Led Zeppelin fans whose first introduction to the blues were through them. I still remember how revolted I was when I heard the two slow blues songs on Led Zeppellin I (What the hell is this? This is NOT Rock and Roll!). Also, the first shit kicking songs in my album collection were on Led Zeppelin III. I know I was excited when I heard that he was going to pair with Alison Krauss on an album. Don’t think I would have felt the same way if it were Ozy Osbourne instead of him. And I loved Ozzy in Black Sabbath.

    I didn’t react much when I heard of the Grammy nominations or even when I read your interview with Ms. Chorney. It’s the logic of some of the defenders of the nomination and the need for some of them to go on the attack to make their point that have gotten under my skin a little.

  5. Jack, thanks for taking the time for a thoughtful comment.

    I don’t see these as false (straw men) arguments. These are where the arguments I’ve seen online generally divide into two themes and have addressed them as well as I can. On the subject of gate keeping; I do think the analogy of xenophobia, inflammatory or not, is apt when it comes to the boundaries of the outsider genre now being so diligently patrolled. Many of the attackers are suspect because of their place in the industry and I think the health of the community is diminished in the wake.

    As per Robert Plant, I think his automatic acceptance from the community was partially due his companions (Krauss and Burnett) ushering him into the field. but I think the real cache came from his celebrity status. if Led Zeppelin had just been a local London band I’d doubt he would have gotten the same red carpet treatment and the good will awarded by stardom mixed with nostalgia.

    i understand your distaste for the attacks to make a point. But take a look at the people attacking Chorney and i think you might agree my brand attack is pretty timid.

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