Trio of best children's group Grammy contenders decline nominations over lack of diversity

Gary Dinges, USA TODAY
·5 min read

The Recording Academy is under fire again from critics who say the Grammys, music's most prestigious awards, routinely fail to appropriately honor females and artists of color.

The latest example comes from three contenders in the best children's album category who opted in December to turn down their nominations. All this year's nominees in that category are white. Grammys final round voting closes today.

Alastair Moock, Dog on Fleas and the Okee Dokee Brothers wrote a joint letter asking that their names be removed from the final ballot. They said their genre is "uniquely tasked with modeling fairness, kindness and inclusion" and the nominations in their category did not reflect that objective.

The trio's letter, in its entirety, reads:

After a week of soul searching, discussions with our black, brown, and white peers, and consultations with our families, we, the undersigned nominees in this category have come to the conclusion that it’s in the best interest of our genre for us to decline our nominations. We respectfully ask that our names be removed from final round ballots.

We are deeply grateful to the Recording Academy and its voting members for the honor we’ve received, but we can’t in good conscience benefit from a process that has – both this year and historically – so overlooked women, performers of color, and most especially black performers.

Unfortunately, this year’s slate of all white nominees, only one of whom is female, is not an aberration for children’s music. In the past 10 years, only about 6% of nominated acts have been black led or co-led, another 8% or so have been non-black POC-led, and around 30% have been female-led. These numbers would be disappointing in any category, but – in a genre whose performers are uniquely tasked with modeling fairness, kindness, and inclusion; in a country where more than half of all children are non-white; and after a year of national reckoning around race and gender – the numbers are unacceptable.

We take full responsibility for putting ourselves in the position we’re in. We chose to submit and distribute our albums to voters, even as we were aware of this category’s past history of exclusion. We thought that this year – after recent national events, all the hard work of the Family Music Forward racial justice collective to bring attention to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in our genre, and changes within the Academy itself designed to reduce bias – we might see a different outcome. We didn’t, and the results are frankly an embarrassment for the field of children’s music.

We know that there are proposed changes already being discussed for this category – due, at least in part, to the vocal efforts of Family Music Forward in bringing attention to this year’s results. If there’s a role for us to play in helping to create positive change in this category going forward, we’d like to be a part of that work. But we also recognize that changes going forward can’t alter the outcome of this or past years’ nominations.

We know that declining our nominations runs the risk of centering ourselves even further in this conversation. We’re prepared for that criticism if it means helping to bring attention to the problem. And, in order to make sure this story is told in a well-rounded way and not purely through a white lens, we commit to including black and brown leadership from our genre in any future press interviews that may arise from our nominations, or our declining of them.

We’re hopeful that our statement today can be a small part of helping to heal some of the pain and anger amongst our peers, and that it will help bring us closer as a community. We don’t pretend to have the answers, but we want to be part of the solution. We feel sure that, if we work together in the coming months and years, we can arrive at a better place for children’s music – one that better serves all performers and families.

The Grammys have placed an increased emphasis on diversity in the past year, following criticism from Sean "Diddy" Combs during a speech at the 2020 Clive Davis pre-Grammy Gala.

"Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be," he said. "For years we've allowed institutions that have never had our best interests at heart to judge us, and that stops right now."

More: After Grammy nominations outcry, Recording Academy steps up efforts to support Black musicians

The Recording Academy has since vowed to take a number of steps to address concerns from Combs and others, including hiring a diversity and inclusion officer. In October, we got a first look at its #ChangeMusic Roadmap project.

The three children's groups aren't the only musicians to protest this year's Grammy nominations. The Weeknd, who was shut out despite having one of the year's biggest hits, voiced his frustration on Twitter shortly after nominees were unveiled.

More: The Weeknd calls out his Grammy nomination shutout, demands 'industry transparency'

"The Grammys remain corrupt," the "Blinding Lights" singer wrote. "You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency ..."

The two remaining best children's album nominees are Joanie Leeds and Justin Roberts.

Contributing: David Oliver, USA TODAY

Follow Gary Dinges on Twitter @gdinges

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Grammys children's group nominees back out over lack of diversity