Los Angeles—Just hours prior to the Grammys Pre-Telecast earlier this month, Radmilla Cody, a Navajo recording artist and Grammy nominee, tied her mother’s hair into a traditional Navajo bun as they dressed for music’s biggest night. Both wore Navajo attire, with Radmilla in her most prized piece: A pair of moccasins her grandmother Dorothy made for her when Radmilla was a teenager. Dorothy passed away late last year at the age of 97 just before Cody learned of the Grammy nomination. Before walking out the door of a family friend’s home, her mother Margaret embraced her and tearfully said, “I’m very proud of you. You’ve come a long way. You worked so hard for this.” With tears streaming down her cheeks, Cody responded, “Mom you always said, let them talk. You said you’re going to be somebody and here we are.”
The road to the Grammys hasn’t been easy for the former Miss Navajo Nation, who is half black. Growing up on the reservation she endured racial slurs. In 2003 she went to prison for more than a year in connection with drug-dealing activities of her then-boyfriend’s drug dealing, who she has said was physically and mentally abusive. Despite her accomplishments since then, which include earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations with a minor in Sociology from Northern Arizona University, many Navajos refuse to forgive and forget. “Someone, (a Navajo), wrote ‘I hate you’ on my Facebook page after I received the Grammy nomination,” said Cody.
At the Nokia Theater for the Pre-Telecast, the family and friends in Team Cody screamed and yelled as if they were at a basketball game on the reservation when host David Alan Grier, actor, comedian and fellow Grammy nominee, introduced Cody as a presenter. It was the first time in Grammy history a Native American had served as a presenter. After introducing herself in Navajo, Cody announced the winners in ten categories. “It was exciting. It was nerve-wracking. I was very nervous but I was so honored (to present),” said Cody.
Cody waited backstage as another presenter announced her category for “Regional Roots Music Album.” The Recording Academy dropped the Native American category in 2011 due to a major overhaul of Grammy categories. While disappointed that She Keyah: Songs for the People, an album she made with her uncle Herman Cody and released on the Canyon Records label, didn’t win the coveted trophy, Cody said being nominated in this category and being a presenter can lead to invaluable exposure for all Native artists in the music industry.
“It’s a blessing—I do believe this is a break-through in being recognized as Native people," she said. "It raises the profile of Native Americans. It widens their audience. Sometimes we have to take baby steps and it turns into greater opportunities,” said Cody.
Backstage, and on the red carpet to the live event at the Staples Center, Cody rubbed elbows with celebrities like Grier and singer/guitarist Bonnie Raitt, and had the chance to see some of her idols and icons up close. “I yelled at J-Lo as she walked back to her seat. She turned toward me and I snapped a photo on my cell phone,” said Cody, who sat eight rows from the stage. “I was thinking oh my gosh, so this is what it’s like, watching different artists whom I admire perform, and meeting famous people."
Cody added that the celebrities she met "said they appreciated my introduction in Navajo and complimented me on my outfit."
Being a nominee has inspired her to do more musically. “I will always be committed to doing Navajo music but I’ve been considering crossing over and branching out such as in world music where I’m still promoting the Navajo language,” said Cody. World music involves collaboration with other cultures, and use of their languages or instruments. Former Grammy nominee R. Carlos Nakai, Navajo and Ute, has explored new musical settings such as New Age, world-beat jazz and classical.
Two days after attending the Grammys, Cody learned she is a nominee for a Native American Music Award (NAMA) for Best Female Artist, Record of the Year and Best Traditional Recording. The 14th annual NAMA ceremony will be held, Friday, May 10, at the Seneca Casino & Hotel in Niagra Falls, New York.