Singer-songwriter Linda Chorney has belatedly picked up a Grammy nod in the American roots song category, after Recording Academy president-CEO Harvey Mason Jr. personally looked into the mystery of why her name was absent from the official nominations, even though a few early news accounts had listed her as a nominee.
It seemed like an odd coincidence that Chorney, of all people — a prior nominee with some Grammy-related controversy in her past — would have accidentally been the random victim of a Grammys snafu. But, as Mason found out and was able to relay to Chorney this week, it was not a coincidence. Her nomination had been flagged by someone within the Academy for an audit, specifically because of that past history… and it wasn’t resolved by the time the nominations were officially announced Nov. 23, at which point another nominee had been bumped up into her place.
Now, her song “Bored” has been restored to the ballot. And there are six songs contending in the American roots song category, as the number that had been elevated to take the place of hers will get to keep its nomination.
Said the Recording Academy in a statement Wednesday: “Ms. Chorney’s song ‘Bored’ was voted as a Best American Roots Song nominee by her peers. Before the nominations list was certified, the song was removed while representatives from Deloitte conducted an audit. That audit has now concluded and Ms. Chorney’s recording has been added back in. We apologize for any inconvenience this delay may have caused, but ensuring the integrity of our voting process is paramount. The Recording Academy congratulates Ms. Chorney and all of the nominees in that category.”
Speaking with Variety, Chorney was ebullient after nine days of anxiety over whether she had a nomination and uncertainty about what was at the root of the confusion. “It’s amazing what Harvey Mason Jr. did to make everything right,” she said. “It wasn’t an easy week, but I’m so honored that I was nominated for my music from the fellow members. It’s astounding and wonderful, but on top of that, I’m amazed that Harvey did the right thing. That’s pretty remarkable. I believe he’s the guy to steer the Recording Academy into an amazing direction, because I don’t know if just anybody would stick their neck out like that for an indie.”
Chorney had been experiencing a boomerang of moods ever since the morning of Nov. 23, when she got up to watch the nominations being announced online and took it in stride that her song was not among them. It was later that night that a puzzling development occurred: Her phone began pinging with Google news alerts showing that a few news organizations around the world — mostly obscure ones, but also at least one international iteration of Rolling Stone among them — listed “Bored” in the American roots song category in place of a Rhiannon Giddens song that had been officially announced as one of the top five hours earlier.
Chorney got in touch with one of the reporters who listed her song, who said only that she had cut-and-pasted it from another source and was “correcting” the information to reflect what had gone out officially from the Academy. Chorney was eventually able to ascertain that “Bored” had first appeared on a leaked list of nominees that had circulated the previous week — apparently the same document the New York Times got ahold of that showed who the top eight contenders had been in the four general-field categories before the trustees held a meeting to bump that number up from eight to 10 on Nov. 22.
Chorney, understandably, was suspicious about why she’d been bumped. Her first suspicion was that one of the “gatekeepers” in the Americana genre that had objected to her nomination for the 2012 Grammys had seen the leaked list and somehow talked the Academy into rescinding her nomination right before it went public. But she accepts Mason’s explanation that no outside intrigue was involved, but rather that the nod got hung up in an internal process.
There’s a good amount of back story to catch up on here to understand Chorney’s past highs and lows with the Grammys, and why someone in the organization might have singled out her nomination for an audit. Specifically, Chorney says she was told by Mason that a book she wrote about her bumpy ride as a previous Grammy nominee, and a subsequent dramatic film she made about her experiences (in which she starred as herself), “When I Sing,” were what led someone in the organization to want to make sure everything about her fresh nomination was legit.
When nominations for the 55th annual Grammys were announced in late 2011, Chorney’s inclusion came as a shock to the somewhat tight-knit Americana music community, few of whom had heard of her before, and not all of whom were convinced she belonged in the category. Wrote Variety in a December 2011 story: “Armed only with a computer and some chutzpah, a longshot snuck through the back door and into the Grammy Awards competition this year. The resourceful Linda Chorney secured a Grammy nomination in the category of Americana album for her self-produced, self-released ‘Emotional Jukebox’ by taking her mission directly to voters, employing the peer-to-peer function of the Recording Academy’s own site for members, Grammy 365. Many in the tight-knit Americana community have reacted quizzically, and sometimes vehemently, to Chorney’s nomination, which trumped several well-known artists in the genre.”
At the time, Chorney’s quarrel, if she had one, was with the big-wigs of Americana who objected to her getting a nomination for an album with no radio play and no registered sales. But subsequently, the Academy made some changes of its own she felt were directed at keeping a less recognized artist like her from receiving a nomination again. The Academy got rid of the Grammy 365 site that had allowed members at all levels to network with one another during the voting process. At least as significantly, in her mind, a nomination oversight committee was established to review the Americana nominations, just as existed for most other genres. Chorney said she was told by the late Louis Black, one of the co-founders of South by Southwest, that this was done at least partly in response to her nomination.
In line with her DIY attitude, she not only wrote a self-published book about the whole experience but made a self-financed movie about it. Chorney says it was concern that she had used the book and film projects to boast about her ability to work the system to her advantage that led to alarm bells being set off over her returning to the winners’ circle this year.
“The reason I submitted this year was because, A, there were no more committees for the first time since the year I got nominated, so it was a complete democracy again,” she says. “I wanted to prove that my first nomination wasn’t a fluke, because I took so much crap for it. The first reason was my own validation. And then secondly, I did it just to get recognition for the indies, that we’re out there. There’s people in little freaking bars that are in a corner and occasionally when people are actually listening, they’re like, ‘God, that person’s good’ … a lot of incredibly talented independent musicians who lug their own gear and do their own marketing. And so I’m definitely dedicating my nomination to all of them.”
But then, when her name came up as an is-she-or-isn’t-she-nominated mystery, she had a third reason: to find out if she wasn’t being either gaslit or screwed.
When the Google alerts with her name in them started coming in, “I was like, ‘Is this a cruel joke? The gatekeepers that fabricated stories about me 10 years ago, do they really still hold a grudge? Is somebody doing this to me?’ And I was really upset. I didn’t sleep all night thinking that somebody was just messing with me.”
At about 2 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving morning, she sent an email to Mason: “‘I hear you have a really brilliant reputation, so I’m hoping you do the right thing. I haven’t slept in two days.’ And then I introduced myself and told my history about the Grammy nomination and the controversy and all the bullying I received just because of the fake news that I cheated. I said, ‘Can you help me? Because it appears to me that I was nominated and then taken off.’ At 6:20 L.A. time the next morning I got an email back from him directly. He said, ‘I’m so, so sorry that you’re going through this. I am personally going to look into this myself and get to the bottom of this. You take care, and try to have a nice Thanksgiving and I will get back to you.’” He kept in touch with her, letting her know he was still on the case with people in both the Recording Academy and its vote-accounting firm. “And then Tuesday, he called me and he said, ‘Linda, we went to Deloitte, we examined every single solitary vote that you got, and every single one was valid. You got your nomination back.’”
Chorney says she was told she was flagged “because I had a book and my movie that was about my Grammy nomination in 2012. And somebody — not Harvey — thought that that that was a bad thing and had the poor judgment to remove me, rather than going to Deloitte first and examining the votes and then making the conclusion. And they’ve apologized.”
The Recording Academy declined to comment beyond its statement and apology, but is not disputing the particulars of how Chorney says things went down.
Chorney says she has never been anti-Grammys, even though, beyond her book and film, she started a petition several years ago to get rid of the nominating committees — something that just happened with this latest cycle — that she says was signed by 400 other Academy members. “My movie and my book weren’t against the Grammys at all, just against the gatekeepers,” she says. And now, for her part, she says, “The bottom line is, Harvey Mason Jr. did the right thing. I just told him, ‘I hope your integrity is contagious.’”
Chorney faces a tough road to a win, facing off as she now does against such more widely recognized Americana favorites as Giddens, Valerie June and Yola as well as newcomer Allison Russell and the genre-spanning nominee leader, Jon Batiste. But for now she says it was enough that she go to share a tearful hug with her supportive father, which she shared on Facebook (see above). And she adds that Mason told her she might get a performing spot at the pre-telecast ceremony.
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