Musicians call on Grammys to offer Jewish music category

Published date03 March 2023
Joanie Leeds, a children's musician and Grammy winner in New York City, and Mikey Pauker, a self-described "devotional rock" artist from California, are working on a formal proposal to add "best Jewish music album" to the list of Grammys awarded each year. They plan to submit their proposal to the Recording Academy, the body that governs the Grammys, by March 1

In the past, albums of what is traditionally considered to be Jewish music have been nominated in a variety of categories, including best contemporary world music. The Klezmatics' "Wonder Wheel" album won in that category in 2006, and some referred to the award as "the first Jewish Grammy."

But musicians who produce albums of Jewish music often find themselves caught between categories, Leeds said. The global category is not a fit for American musicians, and categories for religious music, even if expanded, are also not an easy fit, she said.

"'Jewish' is complicated, because it's not just a religion like Christianity," Leeds said. "It's also a culture."

To strengthen their proposal, the pair consulted with rabbis and Jewish educators about what constitutes Jewish music.

"We're doing our best to be as clear as possible and as inclusive as possible, because not everybody knows that Jewish music is diverse," Pauker said. "It's transdenominational, it's based in spirituality, it's based in culture and it's not just Ashkenazi."

In their proposal, Pauker and Leeds make the case for a new category that will encompass Jewish religious music, such as cantorial music, nigguns and Mizrahi music, as well as secular music, such as klezmer, Yiddish, Ladino and Judeo-Arabic music. Albums with Christian themes, including those produced by Messianic Jews, would not be eligible.

"It needs to have some sort of Jewish content in it to make it Jewish music," Leeds said. "If there's a song in Israel about some guy meeting a girl at a bar, or whatever it's about that has no grounds in text or liturgy or anything, then it wouldn't be considered Jewish music."

"Our goal is really to educate not just the Recording Academy about what Jewish music is, but also educating the public as to what Jewish music is," she said.

The Recording Academy regularly adds and modifies Grammy categories. This year, it added five new ones, including best score soundtrack for video games and other interactive media and best spoken-word poetry album.

Pauker said this is not the first time musicians have petitioned the Recording Academy to add a...

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