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ETSU faculty, alumni included among Grammy nominees

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Dec 6, 2017 at 5:31 PM

A number of East Tennessee State University faculty and alumni are in the running for musical accolades as the 2018 Grammy Awards approach.

Ted Olson, a professor in the ETSU Department of Appalachian Studies, received a nomination for Best Album Notes for “Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition.” This 32-track compilation, which he helped produce, features old and new renditions of Appalachian ballads performed by various artists from across the region and the world, including Rosanne Cash, Doyle Lawson and ETSU alum Amythyst Kiah, who recorded a rendition of the old railroad ballad, “John Henry.”

Half of the ballads were recorded in the ETSU recording lab, according to Olson.

“This covers hundreds of years of ballad traditions, starting with British ballads and exploring Appalachian ballads,” Olson said. “It’s an exploration of the roots and branches of the Appalachian ballad tradition — where it came from in Britain and how it developed into bluegrass and country music.”

A number of faculty and staff were involved in the project, including Roy Andrade, an associate professor of bluegrass who served as a studio musician and an associate producer on the compilation; Ben Bateson, recording lab manager and sound engineer; and John Fleenor, a faculty member at the Archives of Appalachia who helped master the album.

Proceeds from the compilation will go to the Great Smoky Mountains Association to benefit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“Of course, I'm honored and thrilled, and I greatly appreciate the great ballad singers that contributed all in the name of a good cause,” Olson said of the project. “This was an album that was truly a team effort.”

Two albums by Ladysmith Black Mambazo were nominated for Grammys this year. “Shaka Zulu Revisited” and “Songs of Peace and Love for Kids and Parents Around the World” was nominated for Best World Music Album and Best Children’s Album.

Martin Walters, an ETSU jazz studies professor who produced the albums, notes that “Shaka Zulu Revisited” is a tribute to the band's original album, “Shaka Zulu.”

The 1987 album was produced by Paul Simon before his Grammy-winning “Graceland” album, which included Ladysmith on “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Homeless.”

“They’re very good and their sound is unique in that group setting. They have harmonies that are unique to their culture, and I think that's what Paul Simon was fascinated by,” Walters said. “We wanted to capture their natural sound with as little production or processing the vocals as possible. Keeping it simple like that adds to the authenticity of the recording and its impact on the listeners.”

Alum Barry Bales also played bass on three other Grammy-nominated projects. Two of these were recorded with Alison Krauss: “Loving You,” which was nominated for Best Country Solo Performance and “I Never Cared for You,” nominated for Best American Roots Performance. The third was for Michael Cleveland's “Fiddler's Dream,” nominated for Best Bluegrass Album.

Two other bluegrass alumni were also involved in nominated works. Hunter Berry and Brent Burke played fiddle and guitar on Rhonda Vincent and The Rage’s album “All the Rage: In Concert, Volume One,” which received a nomination for Best Bluegrass Album.

In addition, alumn Kenny Chesney garnered a nomination for Best Country Album for “Cosmic Hallelujah.”

“I’m not surprised to see so many ETSU alumni and faculty nominated for Grammy awards,” Dan Boner, associate professor and director of Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Studies, said in a press release. “Each nominee demonstrates the highest quality of what ETSU affords its students. We are all very proud of them.”

The 60th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony will be held on Jan. 28, 2018. The CBS network will broadcast the show live from Madison Square Garden in New York City.

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