Grammys’ Bye-Bye to Urban/Alternative Category Impacts Indie Artists

When singers Jill Scott and Miguel garnered attention a few months ago for displaying anger at not being nominated for Grammy awards, their fans were a bit shocked also to see that they had been completely edged out of the running. But, it’s safe to say that there may not have been room for the two stars. The award categories are disappointingly slim this go-round. For indie soul artists who may have had a fledgling hope of being considered for the weighty award, the chances of being nominated have now dropped ten-fold.

“I am upset by the changes,” independent singer Quineice says about the Grammy awards.

No More Urban/Alternative Category

This year, the 54th annual Grammy awards will air in February minus many categories, including separate gender-based categories (i.e. Best Female and Male R & B Artist) and the Urban/Alternative category that gave independent artists Carolyn Malachi, Bilal and Eric Roberson an opportunity to make their way to the ballot last year. In 2009, the category’s nominees included The Foreign Exchange, Robert Glasper, Tonex and India.Arie who was the first person to win the award in 2003 for her song “Little Things”. For the past eleven years, nominees have included several independent artists mixed in with mainstream artists, everyone from Vikter Duplaix, Alice Smith, Wayna, and Dwele to Meshell Ndegecoello, Floetry, Raphael Saadiq and D’Angelo. The category will be absorbed into a catch-all “Best R & B Performance” slot.

“It is unfortunate that the Recording Academy eliminated so many Grammy categories relevant to independent artists, these categories gave the artists more visibility and recognition,” says Quineice who plans to release her debut album this year and was looking forward to having her work considered for the category, with a chance of being nominated. “I think that the restructuring is political and money motivated, and possibly related to the fact that the structure of so many record labels has changed dramatically; there has been so much consolidation in the past few years.”  Quineice has some familiarity with the process–her brother, singer J. Holiday, who she plans to collaborate with musically soon, was Grammy nominated in the ‘Best Contemporary R&B Album’ category for his debut album with Capitol Records, Back of my Lac in 2009.

Does Grammy Cred = Bigger Bread?

2011 Grammy Nominees - Various Artists
Buy music from The Grammys on iTunes

Would Marsha Ambrosius, who has enjoyed a fantastic rise these past two years as a solo artist,  have been able to get big label backing if she wasn’t part of the Grammy-nominated duo Floetry? Most likely. Has D’Angelo’s Grammy nomination made us more eager to hear new music from him (rumored to possibly drop this year)? Probably not. But, no one can deny the prestige the award lends to a burgeoning career. Many emerging artists on independent label, like Quineice, with none of the large label backing and distribution help promote their music like most of the Grammy nominees past and present could use the attention a Grammy garners, if only short-lived.

“I think it’s unfortunate that certain categories have been eliminated,” says indie singer Teisha Marie who has been featured in our Sound Check series and will be releasing her sophomore album this year. “An independent artist usually has to work ten times harder than an artist on a major label to gain recognition. I have no theory on why it was done but it should mobilize independent artists to either push [The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc.] towards inclusion or create something of their own that grants indie artists proper recognition.”

Teisha Marie acknowledges the fundamental importance of recognition to help an indie artist move from local stardom to national attention. Recognition is often hard to come by for independent artists who struggle often to simply have their music heard on mainstream radio stations or videos on popular television stations like MTV and VH-1. With a Grammy nomination, independent artists have quicker access, for the prestigious award nomination perks people’s ears. The prestige of the Grammy nomination is apt add luster to an artist’s resume, helping independent artists with booking gigs or gaining sponsorships.
‎Bass player William Henderson, a long-time musician who has musical roots dating back to the 70’s, playing with bands like the Motown act The Dynamic Superiors and popular recording group Special Delivery believes that the Grammy’s decision to get rid of some categories was an attempt to keep independent artists away. He witnessed first-hand during the 80’s how hard it was for bands to stay relevant and successful if they didn’t have major backing.

“If you don’t have BIG money behind you, you don’t matter nationally,” Henderson believes. While he currently works with numerous independent artists like singer Lea and the band New Breed onstage and in the studio, Henderson thinks that awards like the Grammys are designed to be for those backed by major labels.  But, Colie Williams, another singer featured in our Sound Check series, thinks it might be time to start shooting for something else other than a Grammy while building a career as an independent artist.  Williams released her debut album last Spring and has enjoyed a comfortable career with numerous appearances on television and radio programs, mostly independent media catering to fans who often seek for music by means other than mainstream outlets.

“I kind of like the idea of pushing towards creating something of our own,’ she says.

Will you be watching the Grammy awards this year? What categories are you paying attention to?

-Khadijah Ali-Coleman

Khadijah Ali-Coleman is an award-winning writer. Visit her online at


  1. fantastic points altogether, you simply received a logo new|a new} reader. What may you recommend in regards to your publish that you made some days ago? Any positive?

  2. It’s sad that so many indie artist will miss out on such an opportunity and career recognition but I believe that most of us (Indie Artists) will still keep moving, regardless. When the music is in your heart, you will continue, with or without the deserved recognition.
    I encourage everyone on to keep moving and reaching for the stars.

    Oh and check out my website which is always looking for Indie Artist to interview……(Had to plug that in.)


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