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The Aeolians celebrate Grammy recognitions despite no final nominations

An alumnus of the world renowned choir did get nominated for a Grammy on Tuesday.

Posted: Nov 24, 2020 8:15 PM
Updated: Nov 25, 2020 9:58 AM

Nominations for the 2021 Grammy Awards were unveiled on Tuesday and included a number of expected names.

Beyoncé led the way with nine nominations, including song and record of the year. There were also some names familiar to north Alabama.

Dr. Jason Max Ferdinand leads The Aeolians in their final rehearsal before the Grammy nominations. The gathering was also the last for the choir before the end of the semester. Dr. Jason Max Ferdinand leads The Aeolians in their final rehearsal before the Grammy nominations. The gathering was also the last for the choir before the end of the semester.

Athens native Brittany Howard received a personal best five nominations and Muscle Shoals natives The Secret Sisters also got a nod for Best Folk Album. 

However, after making it onto the first round ballot for its first studio-produced album, The Aeolians of Oakwood University did not receive any nominations from the Recording Academy.

The world renowned choir was being considered for the categories of Best Engineered Album, Classical; Producer of the Year, Classical; and Best Choral Performance. 

Nevertheless, Aeolians director, Dr. Jason Max Ferdinand, said he was unwavering in his pride for what the students accomplished.

"For it to be our first album of this magnitude and to go straight to the nomination list is like, wow. That for me is a victory in itself," he said.

Dr. Ferdinand has served as the director of The Aeolians since 2008 and has traveled the world with the choir. He partnered with producer and fellow Oakwood alumnus Stephen Murphy to create the album.

"We're just happy that so many eyes got on the project. Quincy Jones was on social media pushing the album and Jacob Collier and friends that we have that have worked with us and heard our work. So, that's validation for me," Dr. Ferdinand said.

10-time Grammy-nominee and five-time winner Mervyn Warren spoke with WAAY 31 the night before the nominations were announced. Warren, a former Aeolian and original member of the Grammy-winning group Take 6, said he enjoyed the fresh sound that the 2020 album "The Aeolians" brought to the group.

"I enjoyed that it was surprising to me, as opposed to hitting play and having it sound exactly like it was when I was there. And there's no reason that it has to," he said.

Warren has been involved with vocal groups since he was 10-years-old and was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in January.

Fellow alumna and two-time Grammy-nominee Angela Brown was also ecstatic to hear how well her alma mater had done in 2020. She will return to Alabama remotely this coming January with a virtual rendition of her show "Opera... From a Sistah's Point of View." 

Brown pointed to her time at Oakwood as helping shape her as a vocalist.

"For them to be able to continue to move on and create beautiful music that means something to the public now and still have that historic name, go on Aeolians of Oakwood University! I'm very proud of you and proud to have been part of the family," Brown said.

The album, "The Aeolians," was released in August of this year, but Dr. Ferdinand said the work on it began in mid-2019. That was just a couple months after the choir was involved in a fiery bus crash while en route to a performance in San Francisco. 

They went onto perform that weekend, but that experience changed those, like Stephen Murphy, who experienced it first hand.

"It was just a life-changing experience. An experience that puts life in perspective, you know what I mean? And just the same as this pandemic that we're in, it causes you to slow down and enjoy the present moments," Murphy said.

The choir met for the last time this semester on Friday. Their socially-distant, masked rehearsal was special for many students since the pandemic has brought quite a bit of uncertainty this year.

"Having this last rehearsal has been nice, just to see everyone's faces one last time cause you never know what could happen over the break. And I'm just hoping that everyone stays safe and I can't wait to see them next semester," said junior Emerald Austin.

Even though the choir won't reunite next semester as the Grammy nominated Aeolians, both members and the director know that there is much more to look forward to in the legacy of the legendary choir.

"It had to start before us, generations back, and you know, the work ethic and the conviction and singing what you believe, it all had to be passed down to us. We needed to see it in order to believe it, you know, from generations before," said recent graduate Clinton Garrison.

Dr. Ferdinand believes when people listen to the album, they will get a sense of the longevity that led them to this moment.

"Hopefully, when they hear the entire album and get to that last song, they will sense a sense of beauty and a sense of purpose and hopefully, people will want to live their lives and think, 'Ok, I've got to leave some sort of impact on the world,'" he said.

There was some good news on Tuesday for the Aeolian family though. Alumnus Alvin Chea was nominated alongside Jarrett Johnson for their rendition of "Life Every Voice and Sing." 

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