Over the past 60 years, the Grammys have only awarded 10 Black musicians with the coveted Album of the Year trophy. Many Black artists have taken note of this fact and decided not to attend the ceremony this year.
The 61st Annual Grammy Awards took place Sunday night, and noticeably missing from the star-studded list of performances were nominees Drake, Childish Gambino and Kendrick Lamar.
Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich told the New York Times he offered all three men performance spots but he was turned down by each.
“The fact of the matter is,” Ehrlich told the Times, “When they don’t take home the big prize, the regard of the academy, and what the Grammys represent continues to be less meaningful to the hip-hop community, which is sad.”
The Grammys have famously snubbed many Black musicians for some of their most critically acclaimed work in recent years, instead, opting to give them their wins in the Best Urban Contemporary Album category.
Beyoncé and Frank Ocean both won in the Best Urban Contemporary Album category but were shut out of any Album of the Year wins for “Channel Orange,” “Lemonade” or Beyoncé’s self-titled album. I’d argue that all three of those albums were some of their best work, respectively. Still, the Recording Academy chose to honor white artists in the Album of the Year category instead, including Beck in 2013 and Adele in 2017.
Ocean addressed the controversy in a post to his Tumblr page in 2017.
“Winning a TV award doesn’t christen me successful,” Ocean wrote. “It took me some time to learn that … Blonde sold a million plus without a label, that’s successful … I am young, Black, gifted and independent.”
The Best Urban Contemporary Album category was created in 2013, the first winner of the category was Ocean for his debut album, “Channel Orange.” I would argue that the Best Urban Contemporary Album category serves the same purpose as the Best Popular Film category that was suggested for this year’s Oscars. The Best Popular Film category was quickly rescinded after media backlash.
Many critics argued that the Best Popular Film category was a way to award and acknowledge Marvel’s “Black Panther” without giving it the major award of the night, Best Picture.
Black artists should not be relegated to special sub-categories when they have historically contributed the most to the music industry. Genres including rock, blues, jazz and even pop would be nothing without Black artists, and they deserve proper recognition.