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Dawn Richard On Alchemizing Grief Into Joy, Advocating For Black Creators & Her NOLA-Honoring New Album 'Second Line'

Dawn Richard

Photo: Petros Koy

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Dawn Richard On Alchemizing Grief Into Joy, Advocating For Black Creators & Her NOLA-Honoring New Album 'Second Line'

On her new album 'Second Line,' singer/songwriter Dawn Richard's aim is twofold: to make New Orleans the province of the future and elevate Black creators of all stripes

GRAMMYs/Jun 2, 2021 - 01:07 am

Encased in golden body armor with a vibrant plume of sky-blue feathers, King Creole crouches valiantly on the cover of Dawn Richard's sixth solo album, Second Line. Her eyes are fixed and steady as she prepares to lead the charge for Richard's newest era as an artist.

The illustrated character embodies the hope and tenacity that's carried the singer/songwriter through a career of more than 15 years. In that time, Richard has seen chart-topping success and an astonishing run of critically acclaimed albums as a solo act and as a member of Danity Kane and Dirty Money. The New Orleans native credits sobering personal and career challenges as vital to her growth as an artist and individual.

"The story I'm telling in King Creole is me. But I also feel like there are a lot of King Creoles. There are a lot of people who feel like they are worthless. They don't have a voice. They are the others," Richard told GRAMMY.com. "They've had a journey like mine, the unconventional journey, the journey that didn't have a blueprint. You had to be the blueprint."

For her sixth outing as a solo artist, Richard continues to strike down the unspoken rules that often surround Black music artists regarding the narrow scope in which critics and audiences categorize their music. Second Line—which Richard describes as an "electro revival"—is built on a foundation of electronic productions blended with other sonic inspirations Richard has pulled from across her career, like R&B, dance-pop and jazz. 

"It is not a surprise that I would make an album full of so many different genres, so many different colors, so many different meanings," she says, "when I am from a city [and parents] who encompass all of that." Plus, Richard hopes the project will expand how the world views the city that continually informs her artistry. "New Orleans is the story, but it's not about brass horns and jazz and blues," she adds. "The story is about the journey. New Orleans is the journey. It's not in the sound."

In a chat with GRAMMY.com, Richard expounded on her inspirations behind Second Line, how she channeled her pain and promise into the creative narrative of the project and why she'll never stop speaking out for Black artists in the industry.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A major piece of your creative mandate around Second Line has been speaking out against the genre boxes Black artists are often placed in. Does continually having to speak out against those unspoken rules affect your creativity or headspace when you're going in to make a new record—seeing that you're always having to be, in a sense, a voice of representation for Black women and Black musical artists?

I would love to go in and not have to explain myself at all. The artist in me would just like to show my art and then become a recluse. That would be the dream. I would love to do what my peers do. 

I always speak about this because I appreciate Lady Gaga a lot. But I always talk about her journey because she never has to explain why she did a country album, why she did a jazz album, why she did a dance album and then went to electronic. She never explained it. Every album came out in a different genre, and we loved her for all of them. She didn't have to ever lead with anything but her art. I thought that was beautiful. 

Black women don't have that ability, or Black artists, period. When we do things, we have to have disclaimers. We have to explain who we are and why we're doing what we're doing because it isn't what traditionally people expect us to do. I always thought that was interesting. It was never a bad or good thing. I was just observant of it. 

I don't ever want to have to disclaim who I am. I don't want to have to say, "You know, Black women in electronic [music]..." I would just like to come in and be among my peers and make great music. But the truth is, if I don't speak on it, it'll never change.

One of my favorite notes about this project is that you worked on it while at home with your parents—who are key figures in your story as an artist. How did sharing space with them shape the project and how was their influence reflected in what you ended up making with Second Line?

It was everything. My parents have always been the inspiration behind all that I've ever done creatively. They and I have experienced some severe journeys. We lost together and we gained together. We went through severe homelessness when Katrina happened. So every time I'm able to be with them, I feel like I go back to a sense of peace. I get to know who I am. I get reacquainted with why I keep doing this thing and why I have my passions. 

With this album, when you hear records like "Perfect Storm" and "The Potter," [you hear] the influence of sometimes losing self-­worth because I have been through this so long. And I have been treated in all different types of crazy ways. I always find that when I'm with my mom and dad, I find my self-worth again a little bit. I find the strength in me to keep moving. 

My mom and dad have had severe loss, yet they dance in their joy of the possibility and the hope of what could be. They are a direct reflection of what Second Line embodies, and so is New Orleans.                      

You even had your mom featured on the interludes on the album.

We would have sessions. She was getting a knee replacement, so she was immobile for a while. And it made us have these conversations that I hadn't ever thought about. I discovered things I had never known about my mom. And it became so much more about creating an album that represented what it means to be from New Orleans.

What I've realized is I didn't want to make an album that sonically sounded like New Orleans; I wanted to make New Orleans. The record emulates New Orleans—who I am, my mom, who she is. The energy that I put into the record became the actual narrative and the sonics behind it became the possibilities of what it could be.           

Do you have a track you'd call the foundation or heart of the project?

My favorite is the trio of "Le Petit Morte" to "Radio Free" to "The Potter." Those three just mean something to me. They speak to me. I wanted them to be one long record. But I just loved them better as a separate entity structurally when I was sequencing. 

Those three spoke to how I wanted to design the record. Because the record is broken up into two parts. The first half is the electronic, the process, the android, if you will, of King Creole. It's the android version of the album. So, even if the BPMs are at a certain time frame, the meter is at a specific place. Whereas after the "Voodoo" intermission, the human side of King Creole forms. You start to get more soul and vibration that is from a human aspect.

Dawn Richard. Photo: Petros Koy

An important part of any album's story is its album cover. And for you to take this concept of King Creole and make it into an actual illustration, I'm sitting here looking and saying, "Who is she, or he, or them?" Who is King Creole? What do they represent to you? 

King Creole has my eyes but she's not fully me. I want people to see themselves in this character. And it's important to me to always do that because I just want people to know they're never alone. I didn't realize when my albums would come out that for so many people, it affected them in ways when they had severe hard times.

Because that's what music was for me. That is the biggest compliment I could ever get. And I always want to make sure that when I make these albums, though I am on them and though I have these alter egos, they also reflect others who have also felt that way.

So instead of teasing Second Line through a music video, as most people would likely expect, you hit us with your animated short and then followed that up with the release of the "Bussifame" video. How did that short come to be and why did you choose to kick off the album rollout that way?

I always saw my city when I made this album. I saw New Orleans as so much more than just what we were being portrayed as. We are such a visual city. My city is so full of roots and heritage. That kind of diversity and movement is so ever-present in New Orleans. I thought it could be really cool to apply it to a post-apocalyptic Blade Runner­-like story when I was making the album.

The only way New Orleans is seen in animation is The Princess and the Frog—a very caricature-like idea. I thought it'd be cool to show New Orleans in a different way in animation. And because I was working with that, I wanted to highlight Black animators. I [worked with] Nurdin Momodu from Lotusfly Animation—he's from Nigeria. I had him animate the trailer to show an animated New Orleans that hadn't really been seen before. 

The I-­10 and having King Creole smoking a blunt in the middle of downtown New Orleans, just something that is completely different than the depiction of what New Orleans is when people think of it. Because it's so much more. We always see New Orleans as the past. I was trying to show New Orleans in a futuristic way.                                                                                                          

When did you start recording Second Line and when did you finish the project?

I started recording [Second Line] maybe seven months after I released New Breed in 2019. I started recording again while I was in LA and then I finished in New Orleans in the pandemic. My mom got her surgery in February of last year. So, literally around March or April 2020, I was like, "I don't know if I'm done."

I had the music, I had the plan, and then I met up with Merge Records. Because I haven't even been with Merge even a year yet. They heard everything. They loved it. They were like, "We need time 'cause this is dope and we want to do all of this stuff." And I was like, "Okay." So then they were like, "We're gonna release it next March."

So you've had all this done for a year?   

Yeah, I had a year just sitting on it. And that's hard for someone like me because I never feel like anything's finished! You know what I mean? I was trying to do more stuff and put more bells [on it] and I was trying to figure it out.



Do you have any creative elements that you remember thinking out or sketching out very early on in the album creation process before they had turned into their final product?

"Bussifame," no question. I knew what I wanted it to sound like, I knew I wanted to pay tribute to the drill team and majorettes. I knew I wanted the Chef Menteur building. I also knew I wanted to do primary colors. Because for me colors play a strong role in all my albums because I dream in color. And if you guys check out my visuals, blue, red and yellow are very present in the story.

And how have you been able to find balance during your transition back into a label with Merge Records? You're used to having to handle so many aspects of a release on your own. Was it tough allowing members of your team to take on some of the responsibilities?

I handle every element of my project going out still. I talk to Merge daily. And I'll tell you; I've never had a PR team this dope. But I'm constantly on. It doesn't change. If anything, I'm even more on it because I do know what that feels like, and there are severe fears for me because I've had some really bad situations. I'm still with an independent label, so I'm still indie.

[Merge Records] moves good. My PR team at [Schure Media Group] moves good. But I'm still ever-present [with] it. For example, when I knew I would be on with Schure, I didn't take that for granted because that was a dream.

So I came to them with pictures already done. I did a whole photoshoot and had a folder. I was like, "No, we're in COVID. So because we're in COVID, and we may not get photoshoots for magazines, I'm gonna take all these pictures and give you guys a folder. So that'll make it easier for you to pitch."

I promise you that happened. Just because you get help don't mean you stop. It means you go harder because you've got people who believe in you. So I feel like I'm even more involved because I'm not taking for granted that extra help.

There's energy sitting here right now, and it is very palpable. I can think of GoldenheartBlack HeartRedemptionNew Breed and all of those projects, but where does this project stand among those?

This is my best project, no question. I know that's hard for people because this project isn't as targeted into the industry. 

With my other projects, the story was so specific. This is broader. It's a bigger message. It's a blatant choice to say in the very beginning [of the album] that "I don't need a genre. I am the genre." I purposely tried to show that a Black woman can move any way she chooses, believe herself to be the royalty that she truly is, and never care how the structure or the blueprint is mapped out. 

This is the first album with that much versatility, and it doesn't take New Orleans so literally. It doesn't have to sound like the streets of New Orleans sonically. I'm showing you that the essence of what New Orleans is can be brought to the future. I feel like this could open doors for other Black female artists for Black women right now in music, especially in genres that they had never been seeing themselves. 

I would hope that this would be that because that's really what this is to me. It's an opportunity to have people start looking a little deeper at what we can do.

"A Louisiana GRAMMY Celebration" Honors the State's Musical Legacy With Special Performances & A Big Announcement

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.

 

Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

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Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 GRAMMY.com

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or ticketing@grammy.com.

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske
Seattle

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards