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Gunning for Grammys: The Memphis chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences has sent out first-round entry ballots for 2004 Grammy Award nominees. Dozens of local talents -- including honey-voiced vocalist Susan Marshall, her producer/husband Jeff Powell, folk guitarist Sid Selvidge, and alt-country queen Nancy Apple -- have the potential to make it to round two. While NARAS members will be the ones to rock the vote, Deloitte & Touche will do the actual bean-counting after ballots are collected this week.

This Friday, November 14th, NARAS will focus on the next generation of musicians when it hosts the 2003 Mid-South Grammy Showcase at The New Daisy Theatre. Seven regional acts will battle for prize packages worth $10,000 in front of a live audience and a panel of industry professionals. Locally, neo-soul diva Valencia Robinson, hip-hopper Free Sol, post-grunge rockers Chosen View, and headbangers Egypt Central were culled from more than 400 entries for the showcase, along with New Orleans' World Leader Pretend and St. Louis' The Avenjahs and CoCo Soul.

According to executive director Jon Hornyak, the Memphis NARAS chapter hasn't hosted a Grammy Showcase since 1997. "The industry is certainly in transition now. Who knows what the business models will be like six months down the line," Hornyak says. "The more independent you can be, the better. But," he notes, "for most of these acts to move on, they have to get involved with a real producer to take it to the next level."

"Once the announcements came out on rock and urban radio, we were getting 60-70 phone calls a day," Hornyak explains. "We narrowed down our selection to a final list of 40 entries, then a screening committee picked the final seven bands. Listening to all these CDs, we got a real sense of what's going on in the region musically. Even though St. Louis is just 300 miles away in one direction and New Orleans is 400 miles in the other direction, the music sounds dramatically different from city to city."

"I think we're in a part of the country where people don't care as much about the trends as they do in L.A., New York, or Nashville," Hornyak says, citing artist originality as a big part of the regional scene. "These bands take their own approach to things -- sure, you can feel their influences, but there's a freshness to it."

"I'm really pleased with the diversity of the competition," he adds. "The grouping of rock and urban music [at one event] rarely happens. Most submissions were one or the other, or some combination thereof."

Hornyak credits the Memphis Area Band Association and Tha Movement for helping develop talent on the local scene. "All of the finalists came from one of those two scenes," he says. "There aren't too many places for Memphis bands to play these days, especially if you're playing original music. Both of those organizations have played a big role in helping develop the talent here."

"We're here to help them get to the next level," Hornyak claims. "Part of this is all about taking advantage of the Grammy brand name. The NARAS affiliation gives the showcase more credibility than if the event was sponsored by a radio station or a club."

Judges at this year's showcase include some big names: India.Arie producer Carlos Broady and radio legend Redbeard will be on hand for the competition, alongside such industry veterans as Peter Visvardis (Columbia Records), Reen Nalli (Universal/Motown Records), Selim Bouab (Epic Records), Jody Williams (Sony Music), Mark Mason (BMI), Tosha Love (V-103 FM Atlanta), and Wendy Day (Rap Coalition/Visionary Management).

"No matter who wins, it will be interesting to follow these groups and see how they do over the next year or two," Hornyak concludes. "Saliva and The DDT Big Band (precursors to The North Mississippi Allstars) played at our last showcase, and they've both gone on to successful international careers -- and several Grammy nominations."

The grand-prize winner will receive a performance slot at the 2004 Beale Street Music Festival, studio time at Young Ave. Sound, and a CD package including mastering services from Taproot Audio Design, liner notes from Phillips Entertainment, cover art by Brooke Barnett, a photo session with Shane Carr Photography, and manufacturing for 1,000 discs from Audio Masterworks. Rehearsal space at Strings & Things, EPK production by GTE Media, and a Web site, enhanced CD, and video production from LivefromMemphis.com round out the prizes.

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