February 20, 2003
Room for One More?
Look out Pink, Avril and Christina: agent-manager Linda Yelnick is spearheading perhaps the first national movement to introduce a Jewish music category in the Grammys.
"They do polka and salsa, so why not Jewish music?" asked Yelnick, who hopes to see yarmulke-clad artists strutting their stuff alongside Eminem.
"Jewish music and culture is its own art, and thus deserves its own category," actress Mayim Bialik ("Blossom") said.
The response so far from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), which has twice rejected Yelnick's proposal, hasn't been music to their ears.
"There are so many Jews in the music business, but it's like they forget who they are and overlook their own culture," Yelnick said.
A NARAS spokesperson didn't return Journal calls by press time.
Former Jewish educator Yelnick, of Burlingame, Calif.,Â has been a cheerleader for Jewish music since stumbling into the biz after booking RebbeSoul to play at a 1998 day school fundraiser. A year later, she decided to launch her Grammy movement while watching the awards and noting "they had every minor category except 'Jewish.'" Yelnick eventually racked up 700 petition signatures and convinced some 50 insiders to write letters of support, including Bialik and Theodore Bikel.
But some observers feel her efforts are off-key. While no statistics exist on Jewish sales, "There's not enough people buying Jewish music to warrant a Grammy Award," said Simon Rutberg of Hatikvah Music. "Even the number of Jews buying Jewish music for entertainment is so small, it's a clique. And if Jews don't support Jewish music, why should non-Jews vote for it?"
Recording artist Craig Taubman agrees: "When there's a critical mass of interest, the Grammys will acknowledge Jewish artists," he said. "Right now, we need to focus our energy on the marketing and distribution of Jewish music rather than on award shows."
Yet Taubman likes Yelnick's alternate idea of creating a musical version of the Los Angeles-based Jewish Image Awards.
"Then at least we can support Jewish artists who feel the message is their work isn't good enough for the Grammys," Yelnick said.
The Grammy Awards air Sunday, Feb. 23 at 8 p.m. on CBS.