Raymond Partolan of Kirkwood will be glued to his computer screen for the first part of Sunday’s Grammy Awards coverage.
The 25-year-old paralegal is among 53 young immigrants who performed on “American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom,” a Grammy-nominated jazz album with strong connections to Georgia. Though there’s a prime-time awards ceremony starting at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS, the album and its tracks were nominated in three Grammy categories that are announced at an earlier event. That ceremony will stream live online starting at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Grammy.com.
The album’s performers were accepted into the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Also called DACA, the 2012 program has granted temporary deportation deferrals and work permits to immigrants who were brought here as children.
Since 2017, President Donald Trump has sought to end the program, calling it an unconstitutional use of executive power. But he has been stymied in the courts. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court took no action on the Trump administration’s appeal in the case, leaving DACA in place. Nearly 700,000 people across the nation have been accepted into the program, including 21,600 in Georgia.
Released in September of last year, the album features inventive covers of famous songs, including Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In” and Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee.” Some of the tracks begin with the performers telling their stories about coming to America. Others are enlivened with spoken improvisations.
The album’s cover of “Living in America,” made famous by James Brown, ends with the young immigrants singing “I live in America” in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Urdu. Meanwhile, an immigrant from Los Angeles riffs in Korean.
The album and its tracks are competing in three Grammy categories: best improvised jazz solo (“Don’t Fence Me In”); best large jazz ensemble album; and best arrangement, instrumental or a cappella (“Stars and Stripes Forever”). The creators hope the recognition will bring more attention to the plight of DACA recipients.
Partolan, a longtime violinist who sings in the chorus on the album, said he will watch the awards ceremony on his computer Sunday with his girlfriend, also a DACA recipient. He and his parents legally came to the U.S. from the Philippines when he was an infant, but they overstayed their visas. His parents have since become legal permanent residents, and Partolan is now applying for his green card.
“Our entire community is proud of this album and what it has been able to accomplish,” said Partolan, who is dreaming about going to law school and becoming an immigration attorney after he obtains lawful permanent residency. “If I were being totally honest, I didn’t expect this kind of reaction from the community. It is awesome. When I got the email that we had been nominated for three Grammys, I was just completely astounded.”
The performers come from 17 states and 17 countries. The Rev. Rey Pineda of the Atlanta area and Israel Arce of Marietta also performed on the album. Both were brought to America as young children from Mexico.
“At the end of the day, I just couldn’t believe that this kind of work was going to get that exposure,” said Arce, 26, a medical assistant who plays the violin in a popular band called Mariachi Búhos de Oro. “To know that it is going to be on that high of a platform — I don’t know. It is mind-blowing.”
Kabir Sehgal, 35, a best-selling author who splits his time between Atlanta and New York, co-produced the album and played bass on it. The son of Indian immigrants, Sehgal toured with Wynton Marsalis and has already won three Grammy and two Latin Grammy awards.
“People said, ‘What is the angle?’” said Sehgal, who will attend the ceremony Sunday night with some of the other performers. “I said, ‘The angle is humanity.’ We are not trying to tell people how to vote or what to think specifically. We are trying to get out of the way and let the Dreamers tell their own stories and let the music do its own speaking.”
Sehgal teamed up with John Daversa, an award-winning jazz musician, composer and chairman of the Studio Music and Jazz Department at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, where the album was recorded. Daversa, whose great-grandparents immigrated to America from Sicily, is gratified by how the young immigrant performers have responded to the Grammy nominations.
“They all said, ‘All my life, I have felt so unsupported and by myself. And nobody understands,’” he said. “And this bit of recognition said, ‘OK, somebody cares.’ And that just meant the world to them. I could feel it through their words.”
More Grammy Awards news:
GRAMMY NOMINEES WITH GEORGIA CONNECTIONS
The 61st Annual Grammy Awards will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS.
Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover): Record of the year, song of the year, best rap/sung performance and best music video (“This Is America”); best R&B song (“Feels Like Summer”)
Janelle Monae: Album of the year (“Dirty Computer” — Atlanta’s Nate “Rocket” Wonder is a producer/engineer and Nathaniel Irvin III a songwriter); best music video (“Pynk”)
Chloe x Halle : Best new artist; best urban contemporary album (“The Kids Are Alright”)
Cardi B: Album of the year and best rap album (“Invasion of Privacy”); record of the year (“I Like It” — Atlanta’s Leslie Brathwaite is an engineer/mixer and Colin Leonard mastering engineer); best pop duo/group performance with Maroon 5 (“Girls Like You”); best rap performance (“Be Careful”)
Future: Best rap performance (“King’s Dead” with Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock and James Blake); best rap song “King’s Dead,” songwriter)
Backstreet Boys (Brian Littrell is an Alpharetta resident): Best pop duo/group performance (“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”)
Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd (featured): Best rap performance (“Sicko Mode” with Travis Scott, Drake and Big Hawk) and best rap song (“Sicko Mode” – Atlanta’s Cydel Young is a songwriter)
Mike.Will.Made.It: Best rap song (“King’s Dead” — songwriter)
6lack (with J. Cole): Best rap/sung performance (“Pretty Little Fears”)
21 Savage (featured): Record of the year and best rap/sung performance (Post Malone’s “Rockstar”)
Florida Georgia Line: Best country duo/group performance (“Meant to Be” with Bebe Rexha)
Little Big Town: Best country duo/group performance (“When Someone Stops Loving You”)
Freddy Cole: Best jazz vocal album (“My Mood Is You”)
Jimmy Carter: Best spoken word album (“Faith – A Journey for All”)
April and Steven Lance Ledbetter, William Ferris: Best historical album (“Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented By William Ferris”)
Skylark: Best choral performance (Matthew Guard, conductor, “Seven Words From the Cross”), best immersive audio album (“Seven Words From the Cross”)
Whitney Houston: Best music film (“Whitney”)
— Melissa Ruggieri
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.