The nominees said that they cannot "benefit from a process that has so overlooked women, performers of color, and most especially Black performers"

By Brianne Tracy
Updated January 05, 2021 08:30 PM
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The Okee Dokee Brothers
| Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Three of the five 2021 Grammy nominees for best children's music album have asked the Recording Academy to withdraw their nods due to a lack of diversity in the category.

In a letter sent to the Academy, nominees Alastair Moock and Anand Nayak of Alastair Moock and Friends, Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing of the Okee Dokee Brothers and Dean Jones, John Hughes and Chris Cullo of Dog on Fleas expressed their disappointment with the fact that all of the nominees in the category this year are white and that only one is female.

"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," the nominees wrote in the letter, which was shared to social media last month.

Although about half of the award's winners since 2012 are women — including Lisa Loeb, Lucy Kalantari, Neela Vaswani and Jennifer Gasoi — the nominees went on to say that it is "unfortunately" not unusual that the children's music nominees are all white and mostly male.

"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 [person of color]-led, and around 30% have been female led," they wrote. "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."

Though they "take full responsibility" for submitting their albums for Grammy consideration knowing the category's "history of exclusion," the nominees thought that they might see "a different outcome" given the national events of the year. Alas, they "didn't, and the results are frankly embarrassing," they wrote.

As proposed changes for the category are discussed thanks to, in part, the efforts of Family Music Forward (FMF), a collective whose mission is to amplify Black voices in children's music, the nominees said they would like to play a part in creating "positive change in the category going forward."

"We know that declining our nominations runs the risk of centering ourselves even further in this conversation," they wrote. "We're prepared for that criticism if it means helping 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."

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Concluding their letter, the nominees said that they hope their statement "can be a small part of helping 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 answers, but we want to be part of the solution," they wrote. "We feel sure that, if we work together in the coming months, we can arrive at a better place for children's music — one that better serves all performers and families."

While the two other artists nominated in the category this year, Justin Roberts and Joanie Leeds, didn't sign the letter asking to be removed as nominees, they made it clear that they support their fellow nominees' stance.

"After many conversations with Family Music Forward members and my fellow male nominees, it was collectively determined that removing [myself] from the ballot would be counter to the message of my album and my goal for gender equality and inclusion of women in the music industry," Leeds said in a statement shared to Instagram. "While I stand in complete solidarity with the goals of FMF, as a woman, receiving a GRAMMY nomination for the first time is a feat. It's also not just MY nomination. I share this with 20 other women including a female Latina producer and many females in the BIPOC community."

In a statement to Pitchfork, Roberts said he stands "with those seeking change" and that he's "very aware of the struggles that our genre faces."

"Some of my fellow nominees have chosen to decline their nominations in order to draw attention to the issues of fairness and representation in the world of children's music, and I support them in following their hearts and making this powerful statement," he said. "Although we may have different methods, we are all committed to the same goal: making systematic changes to ensure that diverse, high-quality music is celebrated, available to all, and that it reflects the diversity of all children."

"I have chosen to work with the Recording Academy, the BMC, and elected leaders who are passionate about transformation," he continued. "I will continue to be an agent of solution and change. My hope is that the children's music community can remain united and push forward to achieve real and systematic change together."

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It's currently unclear if the Academy will honor the artists' request not to be nominated. Billboard reported that as of Monday, the last day of voting for the 2021 Grammy Awards (which were originally scheduled for Jan. 31 but have since been postponed to March 14), the Academy had not removed the three artists' names from their online list of nominees.

In a statement to the outlet, the Academy's chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer Valeisha Butterfield Jones said, "Fostering more opportunities for women and people of color in the music community is one of the Recording Academy's most urgent priorities."

"In launching the Black Music Collective and partnering with Color of Change, among other initiatives, we have been making progress and … we will continue to push for even greater inclusion and representation," she continued.

Jones added that she had met with FMF and that they "are confident that together our industry can keep moving forward."