Manitoba classical artist gets up close and personal with Grammys

While the rest of us tuned in from home, one Manitoban got the opportunity to see music’s biggest night up close and personal in Las Vegas.

Acclaimed classical and opera artist Rhonda Head, from Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, was in attendance at the 64th annual Grammy Awards ceremony Sunday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Head, known for her interpretations of classical standards like “Ave Maria” in the Cree language, is a member of the Recording Academy, the body that nominates and awards artists each year.

“I’ve been an Academy member for a few years, and as an Academy member, we’re allowed to submit (to be considered for) a Grammy award, but we’re also allowed to vote, so I’ve been voting for a number of years for the winners and nominees,” she told 680 CJOB.

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Head is also the host of a web series called Indigenous Superstars and a passionate advocate for her fellow Indigenous artists. She had her own viral moment before the ceremony, as a photo of her group holding an “All Children Matter” flag on the red carpet racked up thousands of views on social media.

She also had the opportunity to sing at an exclusive post-awards party, although her performance wasn’t the most memorable aspect.

“We got invited to a VIP party at the Westgate (resort), in Barry Manilow’s penthouse suite,” Head said.

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“Grammy winners were there, people that worked at the Grammys were there. There were producers and musicians. It was a really great party to network. We were all there still in our gowns, because it was a formal event.

“Towards the end of the night I was walking by the pool and I slipped and I fell in the pool with my gown. It was so hilarious. I was embarrassed at the time…The only thing that got hurt was my ego, but I got over it and we just laughed about it.”

Head said she remains passionate about introducing Indigenous languages into a style of music known primarily for being sung in European romance languages.

“When I was studying the languages, Italian and French and Latin, I kind of put a hold on it and thought ‘wait a minute’.

“I’m sure you know the story of residential schools. My parents weren’t allowed to speak their language and they never shared it with me, so I decided to dabble and start putting the Cree language into an opera aria and it worked. It fit perfectly.

“When I started learning to translate Cree into classical songs, my language started coming back to me, because I was forced to learn the language in order to sing it.”

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