After singing out for unity and harmony on their latest record, Minnesota's family-friendly folk duo the Okee Dokee Brothers have asked Grammy Awards organizers to remove their name from the nominations list for best children's album due to what they see as a lack of inclusivity.
"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," the Okee Dokees wrote in an open letter posted Wednesday addressed to the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.
They were among three of the five acts up for this year's kids music award who signed the letter asking to be removed from the category, including two other white male acts, Dog on Fleas and Alastair Moock.
Only one woman, Joanie Leads, and no artists of color are included in the category this year, which the protesting nominees say is too often the case.
Citing work by the organization Family Music Forward to diversify the category, the letter claims that only 6% of children's-album nominees up until now have been Black or co-led by Black musicians, and only around 30% have been women or led by women. That's especially unacceptable in this case, the letter's signers say.
"These numbers would be disappointing in any category," they wrote. "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."
Grammys representatives provided a statement to the Star Tribune in response to the letter.
"Fostering more opportunities for women and people of color in the music community is one of the Recording Academy's most urgent priorities," wrote Valeisha Butterfield Jones, the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the Grammys organization. She cited the diversified roster of nominees in major categories this year and ongoing initiatives with the Black Music Collective and Color for Change.
As for the children's albums category, she did not address these artists' requests to be removed from the category, but added, "We have met with Family Music Forward and others to reaffirm our commitment to drive necessary change. We are confident that together our industry can keep driving forward."
A Minneapolis resident, the Okee Dokees' Joe Mailander said he and his partner Justin Lansing do not want to comment further on the issue in order to "avoid the story being primarily centered around us." They pointed to an NPR Music article on North Carolina's Pierce Freelon about bringing diversity to the family-friendly music genre. The Twin Cities' own Siama Matuzungidi has also been a bright presence in this field.
For kids music acts — who don't generally garner mainstream press or radio play — winning these awards can be an especially valuable source of promotion. That would have been especially true this time around, since the Okee Dokees had to cancel their vast array of tour dates to promote their latest album due to the pandemic.
Perennial favorites among Minnesota's Grammy nominees, the Okee Dokees were nominated for the fifth time this year for "Songs for Singin'," a double-album of singalong-style, old-school folk music that they rush-released in April to entertain cooped-up families. The duo won one Grammy in 2013 for their first of four outdoor-adventure albums, "Can You Canoe?"
Lack of diversity has been an ongoing trouble spot for the Grammys, from the #GrammysSoWhite campaign in 2017 and then the backlash from former NARAS president Neil Portnow's statement in 2018 that women "need to step up" to receive more nominations.
New NARAS leaders have added diversity in the broad voter blocs over the past two years, leading to such applaudable signs of progress as this year's best rock performance category being all women, including Minnesota-based singer/songwriter Adrienne Lenker's band Big Thief. But subcategories such as children's music pull from a different voters pool, one built around that particular genre's prior nominees and industry backers.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658