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Sunday, April 14, 2024
The Observer

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The Grammys, Tennessee legislature and an unwanted spotlight

Music’s biggest night proved to be eventful for Tennessee musicians Paramore and Allison Russell, both of whom took home their first wins at the Grammys earlier this month. 

Paramore, the alternative band which began in 2004, celebrated not only the recognition of their sixth and final studio album “This is Why” but also a long held tradition of the Tennessee legislature. Upon accepting a major creative award (like a Grammy) the state legislature will bring forth resolutions to be heard by state representatives, congratulating the winning artists. These resolutions hold no lawful impact or weight. 

Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones brought forth the two resolutions, one for each artist respectively, but it was only Paramore’s that made it through. 

Allison Russell, who was born in Montreal, Quebec, created a name for herself in the city of Nashville and excels in the Americana/Folk genre. The resolution in her honor was removed by Representative and House Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison, prompting Jones to respond to what he called a “shameful example of Jim Crow thinking.” The objection, supported by Republican lawmakers, removed Russell off of the legislature’s consent calendar, pushing it back to the legislative committee. Per consent calendar rules, there was no debate over why Republican lawmakers objected to the resolution. Faison has since issued a statement on the topic: “Members routinely come to me with questions about the items on the consent calendar, which was the case for this particular resolution.” No further detail or comments have been given.

The only further comments that have been provided in discourse around Russell and Jones have surrounded their politics, which most recently resulted in Jones’ expulsion from the legislature last year. Russell recently spoke out against state-enacted legislation targeting LGBTQ+ rights and drag shows. Russell further went on to organize the “Love Rising” benefit concert, which notably featured Hayley Williams, the lead vocalist of Paramore. 

Russell has since discussed the unwanted spotlight she’s received, especially as a new artist, but has remained grateful for individuals like Williams who has remained outspoken on the issue, rejecting the honor given by the state entirely, stating that Paramore will not accept anything until Russell is given the same accolade. In her letter, she critiques the state’s action and ambiguity towards the sole acceptance of Paramore and centers what should’ve mattered the whole time: celebrating Allison Russell’s win. “For those that don’t know, Allison Russell is an incredibly talented musician and songwriter… You might have seen her on the Grammy stage performing with the great Joni Mitchell. Oh, she is also Black. She’s a brilliant Black woman … Paramore will continue to encourage young people to show up to vote with equality in mind. I’d like to say thank you to Brother Jones for your steadfast commitment to your community. And thank you to Allison Russell for using your voice and artistry to band people together, not tear them apart. CONGRATS on your incredible Grammy night. On behalf of Paramore, Happy Black History Month.”

As we collectively continue to process the social significance of decisions like these, I leave you with a quote from Representative Jones: “It is so blatant. But I am honored by my friends Hayley and Allison, who continue to show through their actions what deep solidarity looks like — especially here in the South, regardless of these honoring resolutions, they are local Tennessee artists who are making history that deserves to be honored, and represent the absolute best of our state. I [and] so many others are grateful for their work in shining light on the movement for a more just and inclusive society.”