By J. POET
The Grammy Awards usually generate an tidal wave of press releases aimed at congratulating the usual superstars for their achievements. This year, there was a refreshing bit of controversy when singer-songwriter Linda Chorney was nominated for Best Americana Album for her Emotional Jukebox. It seems nobody in the Americana community had ever heard of Chorney before her nomination was announced. Many pundits and fans felt blindsided. Some even suggested that she withdraw her name from competition and sulk back into the shadows. So who is this upstart and where did she come from?
"I've been singing since I was a fetus," Chorney says cheerfully, over the phone from her home near the Jersey shore. "My mom was a concert pianist, I had an uncle that played mandolin, and an aunt who sang opera. The house was full of music from Copeland, to Bacharach, to the Beatles. I picked up the guitar when I was 10, started writing songs at 12, and good songs when I was 19."
Chorney was "discovered" by a club owner in Key West. He heard her singing on the street, told her she was good, and asked her to play at his bar that night. "That was my first professional gig, and I never stopped," she says. "I started playing covers at biker bars with my band and slipping in a few of my original songs. Over the years, I built up a catalog, and these days the sets are 90 percent my stuff."
Chorney's been making a living as a working musician for 25 years. She runs her own label and plays live somewhere almost every weekend. She's performed on all seven continents, and even sang for Nelson Mandela at his birthday party in Boston, in front of 259,000 people on a bill with Paul Simon and Jackson Browne. She has released six self-produced CDs, which she sells off the edge of the stage, at CD Baby, iTunes, and the usual gang of digital retailers. That fact that she nabbed the Grammy nomination without registering a single SoundScan sale of her music has some critics frothing at the mouth and questioning her authenticity.
"I'm an independent artist and I sell enough albums to make a living," Chorney replies. "Why do I need to report to SoundScan? I don't have to answer to anybody; no label executives, no SoundScan, just myself."
Despite accusations that she somehow gamed the system, Chorney was as shocked as anyone else when the nominations were announced. "I've seen the spewing in the blogs and was surprised. What are the odds of getting (a nomination) with no label or machine behind me? I would have thought the reaction would be, 'let's listen to her music', not 'let's rip her a new one'."
Not all reaction has been negative. Billboard magazine hailed her DIY campaign to make Grammy voters aware of her music, and Nashville manager Paul Schatzkin, one of the founders of the Americana Music Association, called her the "poster child for a paradigm shift" on his Cohesion Arts blog. He notes that the dawn of digital media 15 years ago has disrupted the power that major labels once had over the music business, and feels that the Grammys are now geared toward drawing the largest possible audience to their yearly telecasts. "Given that dubious threshold, why is it objectionable that one diligent -- if unheralded -- performer should find her way into the arena?" he asks.