Campus News

UW professor heads to L.A. in hopes of winning Grammy award

The album cover of Alpine Dreaming: The Helvetia Records Story, 1920-1924 showcases the heritage discussed in the album's songs. 

The album cover of Alpine Dreaming: The Helvetia Records Story, 1920-1924 showcases the heritage discussed in the album's songs. 

Image By: Courtesy of UW Archives

A UW-Madison professor will join pop superstars including Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande in the ranks of Grammy nominees for his contributions to a folk album. 

Emeritus Professor of Folklore and Scandinavian Studies James Leary was nominated in the “Best Album Notes” category for his work on the restoration and transcription of Alpine Dreaming: The Helvetia Records Story, 1920-1924, an album featuring Swiss and folk songs. 

Leary’s work on the album was part of a collaboration between Mills Music Library and the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures that aims to grow a collection of historic sound recordings. 

He said once he obtained the original work, he researched the label that produced the album and performers on the album, trying to discover the larger context around it. 

A majority of the songs on the original album were not sung in English, so Leary worked to transcribe and translate the songs. Then he wrote the notes to songs. 

Leary said people are quick to ignore immigrant culture, a central point of the album, because of an “America first” or “anti-foreign” mentality. Despite that challenge, he hopes his nomination brings light to folk music and traditions.

“My main goal is to raise awareness of the historical and cultural depth of folk culture in the upper Midwest,” Leary said. “The Grammy nomination was simply an added bonus.”

Leary and his family will travel to Los Angeles to attend the Grammy awards this week. He said there will be a ceremony held by the organization honoring all nominees. 

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