By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
On March 31 local artists gathered at the Lincoln Theater to celebrate the accomplishments and hard work it takes to thrive in the music business at the Washington Area Music Awards (WAMA), better known as “The Wammies.”
The Wammies is a 31-year-old award show honoring DMV musicians who dedicate so much to their craft, in an often difficult, underpaying and unforgiving business.
“I see these artists, and I’ve been involved in the arts community trying to make sure that people’s rights are protected, that they’re getting paid fairly and it’s a tough business,” attorney and co-founder of WAMA, John Simson told the AFRO.
The Wammies is a moment to celebrate these hardworking artists.
“The Wammies has always been a wonderful coming together of the D.C., local music scene,” Simson said. “I think we’ve seen so many local artists, who became nationally prominent- this gave them a little bit of a boost and a little recognition in the global marketplace,” Simson added.
Even keeping the Wammies itself was a labor of love that still almost resulted in losing the awards ceremony to which DMV artists anticipated annually. Simson ended up collaborating with The MusicianShip, a D.C. based non-profit organization that offers music as a teaching tool to change the trajectory of young students’ lives- and particularly children of color.
Since the collaboration, The Wammies has continued to exist and thrive and honors District artists from all genres and even change-makers in the music business.
Some of the awardees at this year’s Wammies included Best Funk Artist/ Group, Aztec Sun, who also closed out the evening with an electrifying performance and had the audience jumping in the aisles; Rare Essence received the Best Go-Go Group award; Da Flame won the Best Gospel Artist and Gospel Album; Best Hip Hop Album went to Innanet James; Best Hip Hop Artist was awarded to Beau Young Prince; Kayla Waters received the Best Jazz Artist award; Alex Vaughn received The Best R&B Album and rapper Rico Nasty was awarded both the Best Rap Artists and Best Rap Album. A list of all the awardees is on The Wammies website www.wammiesdc.org.
Further, there were African American musicians and allies that were recognized and made moving speeches that had audience members on their feet.
The Do Good Award was given to D.C. Legendary Musicians, which offers benefits assistance for aging artists. The Rev. Dr. Sandra Butler-Truesdale, chairperson of the organization, reminded audiences the importance of the location of The Wammies at the Lincoln Theatre, a historic site in the U street corridor- also known as Black Broadway- that was major for Black artists.
John Newson, who has taught at Howard University for over three decades, and has been in education for 50 years, received the Educator Award.
“To get this [Wammie]- and this is my 50th year teaching and my last-and I’ve been at Howard University for 32 years. But to be an educator is hard work,” Newson said. “My first year salary was $4,400, so I’ve come a long way. But at the same time, teachers are not getting what they deserve and I appreciate this [award].”
Musician and activist Aaron Myers wowed audiences in a large kente print skirt and suit top when he accepted the Advocacy Award.
“I was raised in a sharecropper community, of about 312 descendants of former slaves, poor and doing the best they could.” Myers told the audience. “One thing that they did know, is if they banded together, they could do good for their fellow neighbors, they could help one another and because of that spirit, I’ve been able to work with a great man named Herbert Scott, the founder of the Capitol Hill Jazz Foundation, to get some things done for you all.” Myers and Scott have worked to help with legislation in the District regarding noise ordinances and paying artists fairly.
The history of WAMA and The Wammies has always focused on advocacy for artists.
“I remember a couple years we ran the, ‘Crosstown Jam,’ which every club had artists playing and all the money at the door went to local charities. So that was the spirit of WAMA back in the day and The MusicianShip really embodies that same spirit- promoting music, promoting artists and creativity,” Simson, who has worked on a great deal of music legislation, told the AFRO.
“We still have local campaigns. I know it’s been really hard for go-go clubs, because of ordinances, people thinking it attracts a bad crowd or whatever- actually it gives kids a place to go,” Simson said. “I think we’ve got to be advocates for live music, we’ve got to be advocates for our local music scene, and then we’ve got to be advocates for the larger national scene.”
In addition to the awards, The Wammies were treated with wonderful performances, including from the Washington Youth Choir, Black Alley and Rolloway Productions, a roller-skating entertainment group.