Several Philadelphia area artists, including jazz-and-soul woman Jill Scott and classical composer Jennifer Higdon, will be up for trophies when the 47th awards ceremony is held in the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 13.
The Grammys have a long history of struggling to appear relevant. This year's nominations, with West, Usher and Keys (a Grammy fave who won five times in 2001) leading the way, mark the consolidation of hip-hop and contemporary rhythm-and-blues as a dominating force, on the heels of Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below's capturing album of the year at the last Grammys.
The roots of R&B are represented by Charles, the monumental figure (and focus of the current biopic Ray) who began recording in the '50s. His album of duets with such artists as Jones, Van Morrison and Elton John was recorded in the months before his death.
West, 27, made his name as a beatmaster working behind the scenes to service hit-makers. He scored his first smash with Jay-Z's "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" in 2001, and has worked with artists including Keys, Janet Jackson and Talib Kweli.
Mixing tales of college with West's real-life story of surviving a near-fatal car crash, The College Dropout is an irresistible Grammy package that packages a preppy clotheshorse who's both critically acclaimed and commercially successful.
(Oddly, West wasn't nominated in the producers category, whose nominees are T-Bone Burnett, Rob Cavallo, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Tommy LiPuma, and John Shanks.)
The album is closing in on three million copies sold, and garnered nominations in three of the four major Grammy categories.
For album of the year, The College Dropout is competing against Genius Loves Company, Green Day's American Idiot, Keys' The Diary of Alicia Keys, and Usher's Confessions.
In the song of the year category, which goes to a songwriter, West was nominated for his gospel hip-hop jam "Jesus Walks," cowritten with C. Smith. Other nominees are John Mayer for "Daughters," Keys for "If I Ain't Got You," Daniel Estrin and Douglas Robb for Hoobastank's "The Reason," and Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman for Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying." (The latter was inspired by a conversation between McGraw and his father, Tug, before the former Phillie's death.)
West, 27, who dropped out of an art program at Chicago State (where his mother is a professor) to pursue a career in music, is the odds-on favorite to take home the new-artist award, which has often been a Grammy embarrassment - as it was in 1978, for instance, when A Taste of Honey beat out Elvis Costello and the Cars.
This year, West goes up against the Mexican American family band Los Lonely Boys, pop-rockers Maroon 5, British teenage soul singer Joss Stone, and gritty country singer Gretchen Wilson, whose red-state sensation, "Redneck Woman," was unjustly snubbed for song and record of the year.
Nominees for record of the year - which honors the performance of a song - are Green Day's "American Idiot"; Los Lonely Boys' "Heaven"; Usher's "Yeah!"; Charles' duet with Norah Jones, "Here We Go Again"; and "Let's Get It Started" by L.A.-based hip-hoppers Black Eyed Peas. That song was titled "Let's Get Retarded" on their album Elephunk, but the band rerecorded the hook for National Basketball Association ads earlier this year - and it's the p.c. version that got the nod.
West was one of the presenters at the Music Box Theatre in Hollywood, where the nominations were announced, and he was impressed by his own accomplishments.
"Ten nominations, that's amazing," he said. "That's like a perfect score. I'm at a loss for words."
Among Philadelphia nominees, composer Jennifer Higdon received four nominations, including best contemporary composition for Concerto for Orchestra.
Three of the five nominees in the urban/alternative category are Philadelphians, attesting to the continued vitality of the scene centering on rappers the Roots. Among the nominees are the Roots for "Star," neo-soul man Musiq with "Are You Experienced?," and Jill Scott for "Cross My Mind," one of her three nominations.
"I have a shelf open," said Scott, 32, reached during rehearsals for a concert tour that will come to the Tower Theater in Upper Darby in March.
"For me, it's just been a lifelong dream," said the North Philadelphia native, who's been nominated three times previously but has never won a Grammy. (In 1999, the Roots won for "You Got Me," which Scott cowrote, but she did not share in the award.) "I have had a literal dream of holding a Grammy in my hand."
Winning a Grammy means more than just making dreams come true. "It doesn't hurt record sales, and it gives you that much more credibility if you win," she said.
The Roots were also nominated for "Don't Say Nuthin' " from their album The Tipping Point, in the category of rap performance by a duo or group. Other local artists to receive nominations were soul diva Patti LaBelle, bassist Christian McBride, and neo-soul duo Floetry.
One former president and several dead men were also nominated for awards. Bill Clinton is up for a trophy - against David Sedaris and Steve Martin, among others - for best spoken-word album for the abbreviated audio version of his autobiography, My Life.
Charles was nominated twice for a pop collaboration with vocals, for "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," with John and "Here We Go Again," with Jones. Two other deceased singers, Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer, were nominated for their rendition of "Redemption Song" by a third, Bob Marley.
The Grammys have two new categories this year. In gospel performance, Fred Hammond will face off against four duet pairings - Charles and Gladys Knight, Shirley Caesar and Ann Nesby, Dr. John and Mavis Staples, and Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama. And in the electronic-dance-album category, Basement Jaxx will go up against the Crystal Method, Paul Oakenfold, Prodigy and Paul Van Dyk.
Green Day's American Idiot album, whose six nominations were more than any other rock band's, was one of two staunchly anti-Bush efforts to receive attention from the Recording Academy. Roots-rocker Steve Earle's The Revolution Starts ... Now was, absurdly, nominated for contemporary folk album, while its title track is up, more aptly, in the solo-rock-vocal-performance category.
This year's Grammys are not without comic relief. Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog's Come Poop With Me competes for comedy album honors. And a country performance category features this Rodney Crowell-Vince Gill song as recorded by the Notorious Cherry Bombs: "It's Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your A- Out All Day Long."
Inquirer music critic David Patrick Stearns contributed to this article.
Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or email@example.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/dandeluca.
For a complete list of the Grammy nominations,
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