The last thing I'll say is Billboard, you play an important role in perpetuating the status quo. We're here because some white guys decided to rescind their nominations — not because you were fascinated by the music of Pierce Freelon, 123 Andrés or Aaron Nigel Smith. Basically Alastair and Joe hoisted us on their backs and brought us into this meeting because you didn't pay attention until the controversy of their choice made it mandatory. We need a lower bar of entry than white guys rescinding their nominations. Some of the gatekeepers that can allow that access are publications like Billboard, Rolling Stone and NPR, which don't typically do a lot of children's music stories. When Family Music Forward first said this is wrong, Billboard, Rolling Stone and NPR were like, meh. But when Joe and Alastair and Doug said it's wrong, guess what? We got phone calls from all three.
Moock: I want to cosign and speak to white people for a second. All white people have to do to be part of racist society is nothing because the system already serves us. A lot of us in the children's music world have struggled with this because we feel like hey, we're good people, we all want change, and we all want to see the nominees be diverse. But we keep getting the same result. It's hard to point fingers. The Grammys play a role: the nominating committees look like us; the field itself is overwhelmingly white. I think there's a real disconnect for a lot of people in our field when it comes to hip-hop, reggae, R&B. I don't think many of us have the tools to evaluate that music critically. So, we don't know what Pierce is doing. And yet, Pierce's album got more national press this year than any children's album that came out by far. He was on the Today show and a bunch of other programs. So, the national audience understood that this album was important. How does that not get a nomination?
Christina, what's your perspective?
Sanabria: There's something unique about children's or family music in that it's not a genre, even though it's sometimes called one. It's more of an audience that listens to many genres. But there's also something that's not unique about children's music. It's what American music looks like. The members of Family Music Forward want to approach change through the idea of intersectionality. We want to lift up the voices of people of color and other identities, whether it's gender or ability. These are the children and families that we are serving, and we recognize that unless we move forward together, we are not achieving justice, equality and representation. We've been talking a lot about the Grammy process, but I think that Family Music Forward and all of us here recognize that change needs to happen industry-wide — from the performance spaces, the radio spaces, the press spaces. All of those things need to come together to make sure that there are no barriers for musicians making high-quality music to make a living.
Everyone here is a member of Family Music Forward. How did the organization get its start, and when did each of you join?
Sanabria: Family Music Forward started over the summer in reference to some virtual events that had an all-white lineup. We began to meet regularly, and as Aaron said, our first outward looking project was Kukuza Fest.
Freelon: The festivals that Christina mentioned are not new. There have been white festivals and white booking agents, white-exclusive artists and events. There were two or three things that made it different this year. COVID was one. So, festivals that may not have been on everyone's radar were now in our faces because everything had become digital and virtual. What started as a conversation that Alastair and others were having around George Floyd, and what do we do about this racist festival thing, became an opportunity to create a group dedicated to dealing with this. If there was a timeline, I was in the second tier. Aaron was in the third. There's a first tier before me, and we're all founding members except Joe. Also, I want to make sure that when you write about Family Music Forward you know that, although last summer was a catalyst, this movement is building on a very solid foundation created by some amazing Black women like Ella Jenkins, Sweet Honey in the Rock and Lolita Walker, who is Uncle Devin's wife, and a cofounder of WEE Nation Radio.
Smith: I was one of the last to the dance. We were all quarantined and doing our own projects, and Alastair reached out to me. He was, like, "Yo man, there's something you might want to know about that's starting." So, I'm bigging up Alastair for introducing me to the group. It has been life-changing and empowering. Rather than feeling isolated, I'm part of a team. We're meeting multiple times a week. We're forming committees, and we've got initiatives that you'll be excited to see.