Earlier this month, Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll and Dublin-born, Asheville, N.C., resident guitarist-singer John Doyle received a Grammy nomination for their recording "Double Play" (Compass) in the best traditional world music album category. This is a breakthrough achievement for the duo in particular and for Irish traditional music in general.
In my research of the Grammy Awards, the Chieftains are the only outright Irish traditional music act to receive a Grammy. In fact, they have won six. Their first two came in 1992 for "Another Country" and "An Irish Evening: Live at the Grand Opera House, Belfast"; their third was in 1993 for "The Celtic Harp"; their fourth was in 1995 for best pop collaboration with vocals for "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" with Van Morrison; their fifth was in 1996 for "Santiago"; and their sixth was in 1998 for "Long Journey Home." Apart from the Morrison collaboration, the Chieftains were nominated in the folk or world music categories.
I'm aware that the 1999 New Age Grammy went to "Celtic Solstice" by Paul Winter and Friends, who included Karan Casey, Jerry O'Sullivan, Joanie Madden, Davy Spillane, and Eileen Ivers. But in the Grammy Award archives I researched, only "Paul Winter, artist" is formally cited as the winner for that album.
Compared to the late Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director Georg Solti's 31 Grammys, pianist and producer Quincy Jones's 27 Grammys, and bluegrass singer and fiddler Alison Krauss's 26 Grammys, receiving just a nomination might seem a relatively pale achievement. But against the backdrop of a clearly unconscionable gap of five years (and counting) for an Irish traditional performer to receive a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, this first-time Grammy nomination for Carroll and Doyle offers significant mainstream recognition and no small hope to Irish traditional musicians everywhere. Maybe, just maybe, NARAS voters and Grammy nominators are finally discovering that there are Irish traditional acts other than the Chieftains worthy of this accolade.
Congratulations to Liz Carroll and John Doyle, whose "Double Play" album deserves its Grammy nomination. The other four nominees in the best traditional world music album category are "Ancient Sounds" by Rahim Alhaj and Amjad Ali Khan, "Douga Mansa" by Mamadou Diabate, "La Guerra No" by John Santos Y El Coro Folklorico Kindembo, and "Drum Music Land" by Ten Drum Art Percussion Group.
Other heartening Grammy news is the nominations of Compass Records' co-founder Alison Brown's "Under the (Five) Wire" for best country instrumental performance (from her Compass album "The Company You Keep," which features John Doyle on a different track) and Clare-born, former De Dannan lead singer Maura O'Connell's "Naked with Friends" (Sugar Hill) for best traditional folk album.
Best wishes to Liz Carroll, John Doyle, Alison Brown, and Maura O'Connell on Jan. 31, 2010, when the 52nd Annual Grammy Award winners will be announced at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and televised on CBS.