Singer-songwriter Allison Russell, who is on a streak of awards-show nominations and wins with her “Outside Child” album, won two top awards, artist of the year and album of the year, at Wednesday night’s International Folk Music Awards.
The program was held as the kickoff to the Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, MO.
Song of the year went to Crys Matthews for “Changemakers.” Matthews performed at the two-hour show, as did the group Isaac Cates & Ordained and nominees Diana Jones and John Smith.
Russell has kept up a busy awards calendar. Over the weekend, she had been in her native Canada to pick up a Juno Award for best contemporary roots album. Monday, she was announced as being tied for a leading number of nominations — three — for the Americana Honors, where Russell will be up for artist, album and song of the year at a ceremony to be held in Nashville in September. The singer was also recently nominated for three Grammy awards.
“I cannot tell you how much this means to me coming from this community in particular,” Russell said during one of her two speeches. “It was at Folk Alliance [in 2001] where I first met JT [Nero, her partner and sometimes musical collaborator] and so many of the people who would become a part of my chosen family.
“This is a beautiful community,” she continued. It’s growing and I’m very proud of the fact that we understand collectively and truly believe that tolerance is not enough. Tolerance is for mosquitos. We tolerate mosquitos. Humans require love… This is like a family reunion. We have the conviction that art and music is an essential service and a sacrament. It saves lives. It saved my life. And it reduces harm in the world. It bridges the gulfs between. It turns fear into love. It’s magic.”
“If you had told me when I was a 14-, 15-year-old, running in fear, sleeping on park benches on Mount Royal Cemetery, that life could get this surreal and magical and happy and good, I would not have believed you,” Russell said in her second turn at the podium.
Other high-profile recent appearances for Russell include performing at the MusiCares Person of the Year dinner in honor of Joni Mitchell, and singing a duet with Emmylou Harris at the memorial tribute for Naomi Judd Sunday in Nashville, carried live on CMT.
Variety named Russell’s “Outside Child” the best album of 2021. The Fantasy Records album marked her solo debut after previously releasing work with Our Native Daughters (a group with Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah and Leyla McCalla), Birds of Chicago (her group with Nero) and Po’ Girl.
Previously announced honorary awards given out at the Kansas City ceremony went to accordionist Flaco Jiménez, the late Nanci Griffith, Denver-based folk music center Swallow Hill Music and singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, who was given the People’s Voice Award for social and political commentary.
The nominees and winners in the three competitive categories:
Album of the Year
“They’re Calling Me Home “by Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi
“Wary + Strange” by Amythyst Kiah
“Un Canto por México, Vol. 2” by Natalia Lafourcade
“Outside Child” by Allison Russell
“The Fray by John Smith
Song of the Year
“On Solid Ground” by Reggie Harris
“Painted Blue” by Sarah Jarosz
“We Believe You” by Diana Jones
“Call Me A Fool” by Valerie June
“Changemakers” by Crys Matthews
Artist of the Year
The Longest Johns
John Francis Flynn
The full show can be seen here:
Mali Obomsawin, a Smithsonian Folkways Recordings artist from Odanak Wabanaki First Nation, picked up the Rising Tide Award, launched in 2021 to celebrate inspiring new voice under 30. Also given out were the Spirit of Folk Awards, which went to Eugene Rodriguez of Los Cenzontles, artist Louisiana Red Hot Records VP and head of A&R Lilli Lewis, NPR Tiny Desk Contest winner and disability rights activist Gaelynn Lea, Canadian Live Music Association president-CEO Erin Benjamin; Bolivian-American multi-instrumentalist and instrument maker Amado Espinoza and Sound Diplomacy founder Shain Shapiro.