And the Nominees Are
Two UMD-Affiliated Albums Up for Grammys
Hugo Keesing, a retired adjunct professor of American studies, was hoping to find treasure he wasn’t even sure existed.
An expert on popular music in American society, he pored over four years’ worth of Billboard magazines, searching for song titles from 1950 to 1954 that referred to the Korean War. He scoured his own archives for photos of books and records. He spent a week in the warehouse of an obscure-record collector in Illinois, combing through some 50,000 records, crossing his fingers to find maybe 15 relevant songs in the cache.
Now, Keesing’s completed four-CD box set and book called “Battleground Korea: Songs and Sounds of America’s Forgotten War” have been nominated for best historical album at this Sunday’s Grammy Awards.
“It was a wonderful surprise when I heard that it was being nominated for a Grammy,” said Keesing, who has donated at least 10,000 recordings, 3,000 pieces of sheet music and other memorabilia to the University Libraries. “It’s something I think that anyone who’s involved in music in any way can only hope for.”
It’s one of two UMD-affiliated nods for music’s top honors: The university’s National Orchestral Institute is up for best orchestral performance for the album “Ruggles, Stucky & Harbison: Orchestral Works.”
After Keesing’s previous project on Vietnam War-era music wrapped up, he turned his attention to the Korean War, not nearly as present in the cultural consciousness. A quick initial search turned up just a half-dozen or so songs about the war. But his heavy-duty research ultimately unearthed the 100-plus songs that appear in the collection—ranging from country music to blues, gospel and pop.
The songs—with titles such as “Draftboard Blues” and “The Legend of Harry Holt”—touch on the experiences of World War II veterans dreading a return to war, children of soldiers learning their fathers have been killed, and Korean orphans adopted by Americans. Tracks by musicians like Fats Domino, Gene Autry and John Lee Hooker are accompanied by audio of speeches by Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and other historical figures.
“There were no glorious songs about winning and about victories and things like that, because that wasn’t happening,” said Keesing.
The National Orchestral Institute (NOI), UMD’s second nominee, was recognized by the Recording Academy for its performances of compositions by John Harbison, Carl Ruggles and Steven Stucky. Performed by students, the album’s featured piece, Harbison’s Symphony No. 4, is “a real orchestral showpiece” that “exhibits a rhythmic vitality and energy to it, interspersed with amazing melodies,” said Richard Scerbo, director of NOI, an intensive month-long training program at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center for highly talented young musicians.
Though neither award will be handed out during the show’s broadcast on Sunday, Keesing and his wife are heading west for “a weekend that we’ll never forget,” he said. “We’ll be sitting somewhere in the nosebleed section of the theater watching, listening and thoroughly enjoying the experience.”
See who wins during the “Grammy Premiere Live Ceremony” at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at www.grammy.com.