Op-Ed: 2019 Americana Awards Nominations Prove Gender, Racial Diversity Bring Musical Diversity
The Americana Music Association announced nominees for the 2019 Americana Honors & Awards on Tuesday (May 14), and while there was a lot to double-take at on the list, fans' initial responses may have been surprise at which Americana giant didn't make the cut. That's right -- Jason Isbell is nowhere to be found in this year's batch of nominated artists.
True, Isbell hasn't released a new studio record since 2017's The Nashville Sound, and -- with the exception of his Fall 2018 live album Live at the Ryman -- has focused more on touring and extending his career into film (both by writing a song for A Star Is Born and foraying into acting in the upcoming Deadwood movie). Still, he is famously the darling of the Americana Honors & Awards, so much so that his inevitable victories at the show became a punchline in 2018, when ceremony hosts the Milk Carton Kids sang, "Don't need to see the envelope / Isbell won it," in their satirical opening performance, "What Even Is Americana."
The crowd erupted in laughter at the joke, but the evening that followed proved the trend correct: Isbell walked away with awards in three of the event's six categories, after netting nominations in four. Later in the week, the celebrated singer shared his ambivalence about his wins on Twitter, saying that even though he was grateful, he wished "the list of winners was at least as diverse as the list of nominees."
LOOK: Jason Isbell's Full Comments After the 2018 Americana Music Awards
The list of winners at the 2019 Americana Music Awards, however, will be more diverse in identity than the list of winners the preceding year -- because there's no other option. Female artists dominate in five of the event's six categories. Women or groups including women account for 66.67 percent of the 2019 nominees list, or 20 out of 30 total nominees. Female artists actually held a majority in the nominees list the previous year, too -- women picked up 62.5 percent of the ceremony's nominations in 2018, accounting for 15 of 24 -- but ultimately only one of the six awards went to a woman.
Remember, three of those six trophies went to Isbell. This year, not only is his name not in the running, but the categories of Artist of the Year and Duo / Group of the Year are populated exclusively with female nominees. But there's one factor that's even more striking about this year's Americana Honors & Awards nominations list, and that's the uptick in representation of artists of color.
In 2018, there was one -- one -- non-white artist nominated at the Americana Music Awards. That was Jerry Pentecost, drummer and bandleader for Amanda Shires, who scored a nod in the category of Instrumentalist of the Year (the trophy ultimately went to Molly Tuttle). Out of a total of 24 nominees, Pentecost's nomination serves as 4.1 percent of the list in total.
By contrast, in 2019, that number jumped to 26.6 percent. Two of the four artists nominated for Artist of the Year are non-white; in fact, artists of color show up in every category except Song of the Year and Instrumentalist of the Year (the latter doesn't include any white women, either). While they are still a minority in the Americana Awards nominees list, representation of non-white artists has made a massive jump forward between 2018 and 2019.
The uptick in diverse identities begets greater musical diversity across the nominations list. Americana has always been a diverse genre; this batch of artists represents that more than ever. The list spans the psychedelic, pop-inflected, Grammy-winning sounds of Kacey Musgraves; the iconic R&B and gospel career of Mavis Staples; the innovative approach to old-time banjo music of Rhiannon Giddens; the soaring soul of rising artist Yola; the deft songwriting prowess of Lori McKenna; and so much more.
Editor's Note: The nominees counts listed above exclude both songwriters and album producers, who, in addition to the artist(s) themselves, receive the Song of the Year and Album of the Year awards, respectively. Although the 2019 songwriter nominees are a more diverse bunch (and also were in 2018), all of the producer nominees in both 2019 and 2018 were white men, with the exception of Margo Price.
PICTURES: A Look Back at the 2018 Americana Honors & Awards