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GRAMMYS, BLACK ARTISTS AND OCEAN'S "KAEPERNICK MOMENT"

“That institution certainly has nostalgic importance,” Frank Ocean told The New York Times' Jon Caramanica in November, referring to the Grammy Awards. “It just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.”

Ocean was explaining why he decided not to enter his acclaimed sophomore album, Blonde, in this year's Grammy competition. “I think the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated,” he said. “I’d rather this be my Colin Kaepernick moment for the Grammys than sit there in the audience.”

Ocean, who was an Album of the Year nominee for his 2012 debut album, channel ORANGE, noted that since he was born, just a few black artists have won in that category, including Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock and Ray Charles.

Ocean was a little off on his facts. Since Ocean was born in 1987, seven black awards have won Album of the Year—those three, as well as Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston, Lauryn Hill and OutKast.

But what about Ocean's larger point? Have the Grammys been fair to black artists? Let's take a look. And let's zero in on the category that Ocean cited—Album of the Year.

Over the years, 46 black artists have been nominated for Album of the Year—and that just counts lead artists, not featured artists or artists on multi-artist collections.

Here's a list of every black artist to ever be nominated for Album of the Year. Artists are listed in reverse chronological order. Within each artist's entry, I show all of his/her/their Album of the Year nominations and tell you if they won or lost (and who won, if they didn't). Occasionally, I weigh in on the wisdom of the choice. But for the most part, I just present the facts and let you make your own evaluation.

You may look at these 46 names and conclude that just about every black artist of note has been nominated for Album of the Year. That's far from the case. At the end of the list I'll remind you of 40 key black artists who were never/have yet to be nominated for Album of the Year. Among them: such all-time greats as Aretha Franklin, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye.

Drake. Views, the most popular album of 2016 (in Sales Plus Streaming), is nominated this year, but faces a formidable rival, Adele's 25.

The Weeknd. His sophomore album, Beauty Behind the Madness, lost the 2015 award to Taylor Swift's 1989. Note: Swift had already won in this category.

Pharrell Williams. The artist/producer's sophomore album, Girl, lost the 2014 award to Beck's Morning Phase.

Kendrick Lamar. The rapper's sophomore album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, lost the 2013 award to Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. His follow-up, To Pimp a Butterfly, lost the 2015 award to Swift's 1989.

Frank Ocean. The singer's debut album, channel ORANGE, lost the 2012 album to Mumford & Sons' Babel.

Rihanna. Loud lost the 2011 award to Adele's 21 (that year's best-selling album).

Beyoncé. I Am…Sasha Fierce lost the 2009 award to Swift's Fearless (that year's best-selling album). (Beyoncé took Song of the Year for the album's biggest hit, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).") Beyoncé lost the 2014 award to Beck's Morning Phase. Her follow-up album, Lemonade, is nominated this year, but faces a formidable rival, Adele's 25.

Lil Wayne. The rapper's Tha Carter III, the best-selling album of 2008, lost the 2008 award to Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.

Ne-Yo. The balladeer's third album, Year of the Gentleman, lost the 2008 award to the Plant/Krauss collabo, Raising Sand.

Herbie Hancock. The jazz legend's River: The Joni Letters won the 2007 award.

Gnarls Barkley. The duo's debut album, St. Elsewhere, lost the 2006 award to Dixie Chicks' Taking the Long Way.

Kanye West. The rapper's debut album, The College Dropout, lost the 2004 award to Charles' Genius Loves Company. His sophomore album, Late Registration, lost the 2005 award to U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. (Note: U2 had already won in this category.) His third album, Graduation, lost the 2007 award to Hancock's River: The Joni Letters.

Usher. Confessions, the best-selling album of 2004, lost the 2004 award to Charles' Genius Loves Company. The Grammys should have given Charles the 1962 award. (Keep reading.) By belatedly making up for that gaffe with this posthumous award, they missed giving it to 2004's most deserving recipient.

Over the years, 46 black artists have been nominated for Album of the Year—and that just counts lead artists, not featured artists or artists on multi-artist collections.

Alicia Keys. Keys' sophomore album, The Diary of Alicia Keys, lost the 2004 award to Charles' Genius Loves Company. (I still can't get over the fact that Keys' 2001 debut album, Songs in A Minor, wasn't nominated.)

Missy Elliott. The rapper's fourth album, Under Construction, lost the 2003 award to another rap album, OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

Nelly. The hip-hop star's sophomore album, Nellyville, lost the 2002 award to Norah Jones' debut, Come Away with Me.

OutKast. The rap duo's fourth album, Stankonia, lost the 2001 award to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. OutKast's double-disk follow-up, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, won the 2003 award.

India.Arie. The singer's debut album, Acoustic Soul, lost the 2001 award to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.

TLC. The trio's third album, FanMail, lost the 1999 award to Santana's Supernatural.

Lauryn Hill. Hill's solo debut album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, won the 1998 award.

Babyface. The producer/artist's fourth solo album, The Day, lost the 1997 award to Bob Dylan's Time out of Mind.

Fugees. The trio's sophomore album, The Score, lost the 1996 award to Dion's Falling into You.

Seal. The singer's sophomore album, Seal, lost the 1994 award to Tony Bennett's MTV Unplugged. Note: This was the last year that Album of the Year nominations were directly chosen by the voters, without a committee review.

Natalie Cole. Unforgettable…With Love, Cole's tribute to her late father, Nat "King" Cole, won the 1991 award. The title song also won Record and Song of the Year.

Mariah Carey. The diva's debut album, Mariah Carey, lost the 1990 award to Jones' Back on the Block. Daydream lost the 1995 award to Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. The Emancipation of Mimi, the best-selling album of 2005, lost the 2005 award to U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

Hammer. The rapper's sophomore album, Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em, lost the 1990 award to Jones' Back on the Block. Please Hammer… was the first hip-hop album ever to be nominated.

Bobby McFerrin. Simple Pleasures lost the 1988 award to George Michael's Faith. The album's biggest hit, "Don't Worry Be Happy," brought McFerrin the awards for Record and Song of the Year.

Tracy Chapman. Her debut album, Tracy Chapman, lost the 1988 award to Michael's Faith.

Janet Jackson. Her third (and breakthrough) album, Control, lost the 1986 award to Paul Simon's Graceland.

Whitney Houston. The diva's debut album, Whitney Houston, lost the 1985 award to Phil Collins' No Jacket Required. (Houston's album didn't reach No. 1 until after the Grammy telecast.) Her sophomore album, Whitney, lost the 1987 award to U2's The Joshua Tree. The Bodyguard soundtrack, which she dominated, won the 1994 award. (She also won Record of the Year for "I Will Always Love You.")

Prince. The Purple Rain soundtrack (which he recorded with The Revolution) lost the 1984 award to a more conservative choice, Lionel Richie's Can't Slow Down. (Grammy voters would probably like a do-over on that one.) Prince's double-disk Sign o' the Times lost the 1987 award to U2's The Joshua Tree.

Tina Turner. Private Dancer lost the 1984 award to Richie's Can't Slow Down. Turner's comeback smash "What's Love Got to Do with It" won Record and Song of the Year.

Lionel Richie. The superstar's second solo album, Can't Slow Down, won the 1984 award.          

Michael Jackson. Off the Wall, Jackson's first collabo with producer Jones, wasn't nominated for the 1979 award, a major blunder. Thriller won the 1983 award. His follow-up, Bad, lost the 1987 award to U2's The Joshua Tree. His double-disk studio album/greatest hits combo HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I lost the 1995 award to Morissette's Jagged Little Pill.

Quincy Jones. The Dude lost the 1981 award to John Lennon & Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy. Back on the Block, Jones' long-awaited follow-up, won the 1990 award.

Al Jarreau. The jazz singer's Breakin' Away lost the 1981 award to Lennon & Ono's Double Fantasy.

Donna Summer. The disco queen's double-disk Bad Girls lost the 1979 award to Billy Joel's 52nd Street. This was the apex of Summer's career, while Joel's most classic album was his previous release, The Stranger (which wasn't nominated).

George Benson. The guitarist's Breezin' lost the 1976 award to Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life.

Stevie Wonder. The Motown legend won the 1973 award for Innervisions, the 1974 award for Fulfillingness' First Finale and the 1976 award for Songs in the Key of Life. It's the only time an artist has won for three consecutive studio albums. Nobody is going to second-guess the awards to Innervisions or Songs…, but Fulfillingness isn't quite on their level. It has yet to be voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, whereas two of its vanquished Album of the Year rivals (Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark and Paul McCartney & Wings' Band on the Run) have been.

Roberta Flack. Killing Me Softly lost to Wonder's Innervisions. The title track to Flack's album won Record and Song of the Year.

Isaac Hayes. The Shaft soundtrack lost the 1971 award to Carole King's Tapestry.

The 5th Dimension. The quintet's hit-laden The Age of Aquarius lost the 1969 award to Blood, Sweat & Tears' Blood, Sweat & Tears. The 5th was the first black group to receive an Album of the Year nomination. They also won Record of the Year for "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In."

Ray Charles. Genius + Soul = Jazz lost the 1961 award to Judy Garland's Judy at Carnegie Hall. Charles' next studio album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, lost the 1962 award to Vaughn Meader's The First Family. A duets album, Genius Loves Company, won the 2004 award. The 1962 choice was one of the biggest mistakes in Grammy history. The voters chose timely political humor with very limited shelf-life over a timeless and ground-breaking album that helped to break down walls between genres.

Nat "King" Cole. The jazz legend's concept album, Wild Is Love, lost the 1960 award to Bob Newhart's The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. The Nat King Cole Story, a double-disk album of re-recordings, lost the 1961 award to Judy at Carnegie Hall.

Harry Belafonte. The calypso star's double-disk live album, Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, lost the 1959 award to Frank Sinatra's Come Dance with Me! A sequel, Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall lost the 1960 award to The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. (Did the sequel really need to be nominated?)

Ella Fitzgerald. Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook lost to Henry Mancini's The Music from Peter Gunn. Note: This was the fourth in Fitzgerald's eight-album Songbook series, following tributes to Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart and Duke Ellington.

Now, as promised, here are 40 key black artists who were never/have yet to be nominated for Album of the Year. In addition to Franklin, the Temptations and Gaye, the roster includes The Supremes (or Diana Ross solo), James Brown, Dionne Warwick, Lou Rawls, Otis Redding, The Four Tops, The Miracles (or Smokey Robinson solo), The Impressions (or Curtis Mayfield solo), Sam Cooke, The Jimi Hendrix ExperienceSly & the Family Stone, The Jackson 5, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Bobby Womack, Al Green, Earth, Wind & Fire, LaBelle (or Patti LaBelle solo), The Isley Brothers, The O'Jays, Barry White, The Commodores, B.B. King, Bob Marley and the WailersThe Spinners, Rufus (or Chaka Khan solo), New Edition (or Bobby Brown solo), Rick James, Luther Vandross, Teddy PendergrassMary J. Blige, Boyz II Men, 2Pac and R. Kelly.

 

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