We’re thrilled to announce the nominees for the member-voted Best Of 2023 (Song, Album, and Artist of the Year) awards, plus the recipients of the Clearwater, Spirit of Folk, Rising Tide, People’s Voice, and Lifetime Achievement Awards!
We’re proud to have such dedicated and talented folks who are helping to preserve the folk and roots music community every day.
Best of 2023 Nominees
The following are the finalists for the 2023 Song, Album, and Artist of the Year. This shortlist is based on US, Canadian, and international industry year-end lists as well as folk DJ airplay. Winners are determined by the voting membership of FAI and the results are announced during the International Folk Music Awards on February 21, 2024 at the Folk Alliance International Conference.
All FAI members in good standing are invited to cast their ballot for the 2023 Song, Album, and Artist of the Year. Voting closes on Friday, January 26, 2024, at 5:00 pm CT.
Artist of the Year
Folk Americana Roots
Hall of Fame
Album of the Year
Song of the Year
“Changes” written and produced by Joy Oladokun and Dan Wilson, performed by Joy Oladokun
“Keep It On A Burner” written and performed by Margo Cilker
“Tears Run Dry” written by Abraham Alexander, Ian Barter, and Leo Stannard, performed by Abraham Alexander
“The Returner” written by Drew Lindsay, JT Nero, and Allison Russell, performed by Allison Russell
“Workin’ on a World” written and performed by Iris DeMent
Clearwater Award Recipient
LEAF, the Lake Eden Arts Festival, has created a remarkable vision for a music festival that forms the foundation for a non-profit organization working on a global basis from its western North Carolina location. Since 1995, LEAF Global Arts has worked to connect cultures and create community through music, arts education and experiences, to cultivate curiosity, preserve cultures and promote global understanding. LEAF prioritizes sustainability with filtered water refill stations, extensive composting, recycling, and repurposing as much as material as possible (such as tent frames). All vendors use compostable cups, plates, and utensils. They also installed grid power to eliminate generators, except as emergency backups. The campus now conserves water via lower-flow filters and saves energy via newly installed, efficient light bulbs and fixtures.
Spring and fall festivals on the historic site of Black Mountain College, where founder Jennifer Pickering grew up, celebrate the roots and branches of the music and dance of American traditional music and the music of the African diaspora. LEAF works year-round, establishing LEAF Global Headquarters as a cultural center in Asheville’s historic Club Del Cardo, presenting field trips for students from preschool through high school, Schools and Streets Camps through the summer, and during winter break for elementary students, and engaging in cultural preservation, expeditions, and global arts education, all based in love and gratitude.
Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients
Four-time Grammy Award winner and thirteen-time nominee, Tracy Chapman first commanded the world’s attention with “Fast Car,” a stunning 1988 single that felt both intensely personal and universal. As listeners discovered her self-titled album that same year, Chapman emerged as one of the most important musical voices of her generation. Songs like “Baby, Can I Hold You” and “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” showed different facets of her writing, as did her 1995 Billboard Hot #3 smash, “Give Me One Reason.”
Chapman grew up in a black working-class neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. She earned a scholarship to attend a boarding school in Connecticut then enrolled in Tufts University. She performed acoustic sets in Boston while still in college; at the age of 24, she released Tracy Chapman, the first of her eight studio albums. “Fast Car” found a new audience when Luke Combs’ rendition reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in 2023.
Victor Jara (1932-1973)
Victor Jara wrote beautiful and powerful songs that reflected the lives of everyday Chilean citizens in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a politically turbulent time in that country’s history. With his spellbinding guitar and a warm, confiding voice, Jara sang eloquently about common struggles and social unrest. Due to his support of Chilean president Salvador Allende and the left-wing Popular Unity party, Jara was beaten and killed in 1973 during a right-wing coup in Santiago.
Born into poverty in 1932, Jara found his calling on the stage after time spent in seminary and military service. He enrolled in the theater department at the University of Chile and met his future wife, Joan. In 1957, he befriended Chilean folk singer Violeta Parra, whose mission was to revitalize and preserve traditional Chilean folk music. Both musicians are considered key figures in what became known as the “Nueva Canción” (New Song) movement.
McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California, has been a landmark for acoustic, jazz, and world music since 1958. Founded by furniture maker Gerald McCabe, the store initially built its clientele among the area’s folk and roots performers who could buy instruments, books and records, or have their guitar repaired. Through instructional classes, McCabe’s has introduced generations of aspiring musicians to the pleasure of playing acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, dulcimer, and numerous other instruments.
The store moved down the street from its original location in 1964. By the end of the decade, McCabe’s started booking intimate concerts inside the store. Elizabeth Cotten and Jackson Browne were among the first to perform shows there, with Bill Monroe, John Fahey, Ralph Stanley, Townes Van Zandt, Memphis Slim, Doc Watson, John Lee Hooker, Linda Ronstadt soon to follow. The small room soon attracted incredible talent eager to play for quiet, attentive audiences. The independent, family-owned McCabe’s Guitar Shop moved to its current location in 1972 and remains a cornerstone of the Southern California music community. Beck, Rufus Wainwright, Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann, Justin Townes Earle, Jeff Tweedy, The Jayhawks, Fiona Apple, Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris, Kathleen Edwards, KT Tunstall, Lucinda Williams, Monsters of Folk, PJ Harvey, Roseanne Cash, R.E.M., Vince Gill, Tom Waits, and Taj Mahal have all performed at McCabe’s.
The People’s Voice Award Recipient
After running away from home in the Bronx at 17, Alynda Segarra founded two bands in New Orleans some 15 years ago, Dead Man’s Orchestra and Hurray For the Riff Raff, whose ninth album, The Past is Still Alive, releases February 23, 2024 on Nonesuch Records. In February 2014, Hurray for the Riff Raff had their ATO Records debut with Small Town Heroes. The album featured “The Body Electric,” a song that NPR’s Ann Powers called “The Political Song of the Year” in 2014, saying the record “sweeps across eras and genres with grace and grit.” From there, Segarra reconnected with her Puerto Rican heritage on Hurray for the Riff Raff’s 2017 album, The Navigator. After that, Alynda began delivering musical instruments and inspiration to students in Puerto Rico. HFRR’s 2022 Nonesuch debut, Life on Earth, delves into survival and what that means for both individuals and society. They remain on an essential exploration of the best role of the activist artist who can use an outsider perspective to inspire.
Rising Tide Award Recipient (sponsored by Levitt Foundation)
Since emerging in 2012, Guatemalan songwriter and vocalist Sara Curruchich has sung in both Spanish and the Kaqchikel language of her people, the first musician to use the latter in popular music for an international audience. Her music is thus born from her people’s collective and individual feelings, history, memory, culture, languages, and struggles, as well as her own, personal stance as an artist. Her 2015 song “Ch’uti’xtän” first gained her fame within her country. Since then, she has released two albums and multiple singles. Curruchich is also an activist in defense of women’s and indigenous people’s rights, for which, she won the MIAW Transformer Award at the 2021 MTV Millennial Awards, served as an ambassador for the HeForShe movement with UN Women Guatemala, and was selected for the Ford Fellowship Foundation Global Fellowship Program. Sara’s voice and message of love, awareness, respect, and defense of life in all its forms, have led many people to regard her as a beacon of light and hope.
Spirit of Folk
A musician, engineer, and producer (with a background in urban planning and architectural engineering, and a love for outdoor adventuring), Jerod has devoted almost eleven years of service to Folk Alliance International. He was the first local hire when FAI relocated to Kansas City, serving initially as the Membership Manager, later taking on systems and technology responsibilities as operations evolved, and ultimately landing as Conference Director. He has administered the board election process for years, been a steadfast support for the regional elections, and throughout it all has focused on community relations: working to assist members, volunteers, and industry alike.
Terika Dean, great-great niece of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Blues Hall of Famer Lead Belly, chairs the Blues Foundation, is a board member for the Lead Belly Foundation, and serves as the Licensing Manager for the Lead Belly Estate. Dean advocates passionately for the preservation and celebration of the blues while strengthening the connections among the folk, blues, and Americana communities. In 2012, she left the health care field to work full time for the Lead Belly Estate, where Dean develops projects that continue to expand Lead Belly’s cultural legacy using his name, image, and likeness.
Amanda Rheaume, a citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario and an artist that has self-managed her music career for nearly 20 years, co-founded Ishkode Records and serves as Operations Director of the International Indigenous Music Summit. As an artist, with five albums and four EPs, she has explored her Métis roots that were not stressed in her childhood. Her 2013 album based in family stories, Keep A Fire, earned a Juno nomination and won a Canadian Folk Music Award for Indigenous Songwriter of the Year. Amanda is a proud member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
Forty-five years ago, Jim Fleming founded the agency that has been known as Fleming Artists for more than a quarter century. A partnership with David Tamulevich during the 1980s moved the agency from theatre to folk music and led to representation of such artists as Ani DiFranco, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, and Jeff Daniels. Jim was part of a cohort of the leading folk agents whose support proved essential to the early years of Folk Alliance bringing artists and presenters into the fold. Fleming Artists has remained committed to advancing the careers of artists who work for a better world and developing positive partnerships among presenters, artists, and agents.
Folk Radio Hall of Fame
The Folk DJ Hall of Fame was established to recognize radio DJs who have made an outstanding contribution to the preservation, promotion, and presentation of folk music, and who have demonstrated and inspired leadership in the broadcast field. Inducted DJs include the following:
Linda Fahey joined the Folk Alley team in 2005. Her love for folk and roots music started early on while growing up in the folk-drenched Boston area. After teaching ecology and environmental science at a small private college in the Adirondacks of NYS and presenting/promoting folk and acoustic blues concerts in the Saranac Lake area for seven years, an unexpected twist of fate led to a job offer from Garrison Keillor to work for ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ as Associate Producer (aka talent booker.) While in Minnesota, Linda also worked for the Twin Cities-based folk label Red House Records.
Jan Vanderhorst has hosted “Just Us Folk”, a show devoted to acoustic roots music since 1981 on the radio and online. Jan has been a fixture at festivals, a judge for the Canadian Folk Music and the Juno Awards, and served on the Board of Directors of OCFF/FMO and the Mariposa Folk Foundation. Recently he has interviewed performers for the live stream of Kitchener’s “Folk Night at the Registry” concert series. Jan has published his interviews in the books, ‘Just Us Folk: We Shift and Remain’ and ‘The Long Haul.’ Jan is a regular contributor to Roots Music Canada.
Larry Groce was artistic director and host of the live performance radio show Mountain Stage from its inception in 1983 until 2021. The show, produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting and distributed by NPR Music, has featured over 2,000 different artists from across the USA and around the world and is heard by hundreds of thousands each week on radio and podcasts. As a performer, Larry is a Grammy nominee who recorded twenty-four albums and the Top Ten single, “Junk Food Junkie”. He’s been inducted into the West Virginia Music and West Virginia Broadcasting Halls of Fame.
July 30, 1957-October 6, 2023
Brian O’Donovan, who passed away in October at 66, served as an Ambassador for Celtic culture while becoming a major figure in American sports and stadium concert production. Born in West Cork in 1957, he visited Boston in 1980 and never left, beginning on radio at WERS. There he began event production which led to a gig with an Irish music festival. In 1986 O’Donovan began hosting “A Celtic Sojourn” Saturday afternoons on WGBH. That three-hour program spawned a live event for more than two decades, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn.
July 23, 1932-June 27, 2023
For more than five decades, Bob Sherman brought together emerging classical and folk performers, as well as established stars, for interviews and live performers. Bob joined his first radio station, WQXR in the mid-1950s as a clerk/typist and worked his way up to director of recorded music, then music director. By 1969, he was program director. He wrote scripts for a program called “Folk Music of the World,” but he envisioned a different type of program to connect with the surge in popularity of folk music. The station interviewed other potential hosts, including Pete Seeger, but Bob was ultimately chosen. He called the show “Woody’s Children,” in homage to Woody Guthrie. WQXR canceled the show in 1999. WFUV, affiliated with Fordham University, soon picked it up again. remained on the air for nearly 55 years.
A graduate of New York University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Bob earned a master’s degree in music from the Teachers College, Columbia University. He wrote music criticism for The New York Times and wrote several other books, including, with his brother, Alexander, one about their mother, musician Nadia Reisenberg.