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Posted at 3:08 PM ET, 02/11/2011

Grammys: Washingtonians to watch - Malachi, DeVaughn, Carpenter, Brown

By Chris Richards

raheem devaughnRaheem DeVaughn is nominated for Best R&B Album at this year's Grammys. (Dayna Smith/FTWP)

Remember when a Grammy was worth something?

Before file-sharing crippled the music business, it was worth plenty. In 2000, when the record biz was enjoying its sunniest skies, Santana sold 583,000 copies of his comeback disc, "Supernatural," the week after scooping up eight Grammys, including album of the year. The week prior, he had sold 219,000.

Now, with album sales down by more than half since 2000, a big Grammy win doesn't mean big sales. Taylor Swift's "Fearless" won album of the year in 2010 and saw a modest bump with 53,000 copies sold the week after the awards, up from 34,000 sold the week before.

At Sunday's 53rd Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, those little gramophone statuettes might be most valuable to the names on the undercard: lesser-known artists hoping to raise their profile, seal deals or increase their asking price on tour.

"Your stock goes up,"says local R&B crooner Raheem DeVaughn of a Grammy nomination. "Even with the decline of sales, there's still money out there to get. I think it's about setting realistic goals."

For some of this year's local Grammy nominees - go-go legend Chuck Brown, up for his very first Grammy; DeVaughn, a three-time nominee; multiple Grammy winner country-folk singer Mary Chapin Carpenter; and little-known R&B newbie Carolyn Malachi - those goals are as disparate as their music.

The rookie

Malachi's smile barely fits into the corner booth at Colonel Brooks Tavern in Brookland. The 26-year-old grew up just a few blocks away from here, and will soon make her first trip to California in hopes of bringing home a Grammy.

Never heard of her? You're not alone. The R&B singer and great-granddaughter of late Washington jazz musician John Malachi, is up for best urban/alternative single with her spacey soul tune "Orion." Before the nomination, she was almost completely unknown. So how'd she do it?

"Everyone knows that the Grammys are a peer-voted award," Malachi says. "I had just joined the Recording Academy and I thought, 'Okay, I'm going to shoot for the highest honor this organization can offer.' "

So without any radio play and barely any albums sold - Malachi's "Lions, Fires & Squares" has only sold 65 copies since its release, according to Nielsen SoundScan - the singer began networking with the 400 voting members of the Washington chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which also includes Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

The organization's national membership includes more than 20,200 musicians, producers, engineers and other recording professionals who vote for Grammy nominees and winners. Malachi hobnobbed with some of them at a Washington mixer in 2009, one of the numerous artist development events the Washington chapter holds each year.

Simply putting "Orion" on their radar helped her score the nomination, Malachi says.

There will be more elbows to rub in Los Angeles. Among the events Malachi is set to attend: Saturday's uber-exclusive annual party held by record mogul Clive Davis. She says she hasn't been approached by any labels since her nomination but hopes to use the networking opportunities to land licensing deals and songwriting opportunities. There will be sightseeing, too.

"I'm looking forward to my first ride down Sunset Boulevard," she says, beaming.

The runner-up

DeVaughn knows how to capitalize on a Grammy nod. His silky R&B singles "Woman" and "Customer" have been nominated in years past, and the singer says the recognition allowed him to ask for more money on the road - up to 15 percent more.

This year, DeVaughn has even more to gain. "The Love & War Masterpeace," his fiery, politically-minded 2010 double-disc, is up for best R&B album. DeVaughn, meanwhile, is currently without a label. He split with Jive Records at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day and hopes to use his Grammy buzz to snare a new deal that will sign both him and 368 Music Group, his imprint label that already boasts an impressive roster of local rappers, including Phil Ade.

"I got a lot of great meetings set up," the singer says, lounging in the control room of Phase Recording Studios in White Plains. "A lot of different labels have been courting me and putting their bids in. So it's an exciting time. And timing is everything."

A win wouldn't hurt, either. "There's a big difference between 'Grammy nominated' and "Grammy award winning,' " he says.

Win or lose, DeVaughn might be the only hometown hero we see on television. Of the 108 envelopes torn open on Grammy night, only a dozen or so high-profile awards are presented during the telecast.

The winner

Carpenter won't be flying to Los Angeles for this year's Grammy awards, but she says she's still deeply humbled that her 2010 album, "The Age of Miracles," was nominated for best contemporary folk album.

After taking home Grammys every year from 1992 and 1995, the singer, who lives near Charlottesville, might not have much room left on her mantel. Those Grammys - for best country vocal performance, female ('92, '93, '94, '95) and best country album for "Stones in the Road" ('95) - came during some of the record industry's healthiest years.

Carpenter says she saw a noticeable bump in album sales following each victory, but she's reluctant to put a dollar sign on the honor.

"It's really easy to go down the road of feeling somewhat cynical about awards," she says. "Particularly the Grammys, which is always somewhat under a microscope, depending on how the nominations go each year, whether it's a popularity contest or true sort of measure of artistic contributions. . . . But wherever you are in your career, it's an honor to be nominated."

chuck brownD.C.'s Godfather of Go-Go is up for his first Grammy. (John Shore)

The unsung veteran

As he sinks into a leather chair at a Starbucks in Waldorf, Brown starts talking about his nomination in a gravelly mix of ramble and rhyme. "I still have the desire, I still have the fire, and I'm not tired," he says, dusting off his old anti-retirement mantra. "And I haven't been fired!"

Fans gawk as they stir cream and sugar from afar, then tiptoe over to ask for a snapshot. "Did you get my gold tooth?" Brown asks after grinning for the flash.

This extroverted warmth is familiar to anyone who's seen the local legend's 24-karat smile up close. But sit back down and ask Brown what a Grammy nomination really means to someone who overcame poverty and prison, and the godfather of go-go does something we never see him do. He weeps.

"We'd go to somebody's house and [my mother] would say, 'Please feed my child. Don't worry about me. Just feed my child,' " Brown says, reflecting on his childhood. "I think about that sometimes." His words crumble, then stop. Tears come streaming from beneath his sunglasses.

After decades of local adulation, Brown has been nominated for best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocals for "Love," a collaboration with singer Jill Scott and bassist Marcus Miller. Brown says the nod not only validates his struggle, but go-go itself - the genre that Brown minted in Washington more than 30 years ago.

"I've learned a lot about patience," he says. "But all of these years, I never thought I'd be nominated for a Grammy. Even if I don't win, if I don't get it, I couldn't be happier than I am now."

By Chris Richards  | February 11, 2011; 3:08 PM ET
Categories:  Grammys, In today's Post  | Tags:  Carolyn Malachi, Chuck Brown, Grammys, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Raheem DeVaughn  
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