2021 has been a year when music seemed to burst from the seams. Albums postponed in the heyday of the pandemic saw summer and fall releases, even as tours stuttered cautiously back, and anticipating and celebrating albums felt good again. 

Nominations for the 64th annual Grammy Awards felt the buzz, with lists of chart-toppers like Justin Bieber, Olivia Rodrigo, Ariana Grande, and Billie Eilish.

The buzz reached all the way to the Triangle, where Durham’s Sylvan Esso, Nnenna Freelon, Pierce Freelon, and Rissi Palmer all received nominations: Sylvan Esso in Best Dance/Electronic Music Album for the release Free Love, Nnenna Freelon in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category for Time Traveler, and Pierce Freelon in the Best Children’s Music Album for Black to the Future.

Rissi Palmer, meanwhile, also received nominations in the Best Children’s Music Album category for her contributions on two of the category’s five nominated albums: the 1 Tribe Collective album All One Tribe, on which she performed her song “Little Black Girl, Little Black Boy,” and the 123 Andres album Activate, on which she sings on the duet “I Just Can’t Sit Down.” (Pierce Freelon is also a member of 1 Tribe Collective.) J. Cole also received four nominations, topping off an illustrious 11 Grammy nominations from past years, including one win.

Nnenna Freelon’s Time Traveler nomination is her sixth since 1996, while Black to the Future is Pierce Freelon’s first nomination. 

But Pierce Freelon’s nomination for Best Children’s Music Album is also an overdue recognition: in 2021, the Grammy nominations in that category featured an all-white slate of artists, which stirred dissent and led three of the category’s five nominees to request that their names be taken off the ballot in protest. In a joint letter to the Academy, they said they could not “in good conscience benefit from a process that has — both this year and historically — so overlooked women, performers of color, and most especially black performers.”

In an interview with Rolling Stone last year, Pierce Freelon expressed disappointment with the category’s homogeneity, saying that he wished that the Grammy’s would release a list of the artists of color involved in nomination decisions. 

“We just thought this might be the year,” he told Rolling Stone. “We thought there might be a whole black and brown ballot. We were that audacious.”

This year, though, a bittersweet nomination at least comes in a pair of two for the Freelon family. INDY Week has reached out to Grammy officials via publicists to determine if the Freelon’s are the first mother-son pair to receive dual nominations in the same year but had not heard back at the time of press. 

“Both of our albums are about family,” Pierce Freelon wrote in a press release. “Black to the Future features the love and light of four generations, including my grandma, parents, siblings, and children. Time Traveler is my mom’s love letter to her late husband. I couldn’t be more proud to be a member of the Freelon family and look forward to celebrating the legacies of love, which have inspired my music, this holiday season.”

Sylvan Esso—who recently received the Vanity Fair treatment on a profile of Betty’s and the duo’s new Psychic Hotline label—is celebrating the nomination as their second in the Best Dance/Electronic Music Album category. Their first nomination came in 2017 for the What Now LP. 

“[T]o be able to tour and see you all in real life has been such a gift after a year where sometimes we couldn’t even tell if anyone was listening – free love and this tour feel like the best work we’ve ever done,” Sylvan Esso wrote on Instagram in response to the news, “and to have that reflected back by y’all on the road and now by the academy is just overwhelming.”

The Grammy Awards will be presented on January 31.

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