Tennessee lawmaker blocks resolution honoring Grammy winner Allison Russell

Tennessee lawmaker blocks resolution honoring Grammy winner Allison Russell


Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones (D) brought two resolutions to the floor of the lower chamber on Monday, both of them congratulating Nashville-area musicians on winning their first Grammy awards the week before.

One was for Paramore, a Tennessee-based emo-pop band that had won Grammys for best rock album and best alternative music performance. The other was for Allison Russell, a folk musician who had won the Grammy for best American roots performance.

The resolutions were so perfunctory that they were placed on the chamber’s consent calendar, a grouping of noncontroversial bills that representatives pass en masse.

But Rep. Jeremy Faison (R) had a problem with one of them. With an objection, he removed the resolution honoring Russell from the consent calendar, while not doing the same for the one honoring Paramore. Jones responded that singling out Russell, who is Black, is a “shameful” example of “Jim Crow thinking.” Paramore, whose members are White, rebuked Faison’s objection as “blatant racism.”

In a statement sent by the Tennessee House Republican Caucus, Faison said that, as a member of the Republican leadership, he had been approached by several members with questions about Russell, “which made it appropriate for us to press pause on that particular resolution.”

Faison and Jennifer Easton, a spokeswoman for House Republicans, did not respond to requests for comment about the questions raised by the caucus.

Russell said in an interview with The Washington Post that the objection to her recognition recalled the controversy that erupted in the legislature last year when Jones and two other representatives faced expulsion over their participation in a gun-control demonstration. The two Black members of the trio that became known as the “Tennessee Three” — Jones and Rep. Justin J. Pearson (D) — were expelled, while the White member of the group survived the bid to oust her. Jones and Pearson won back their seats in an election held later in the year.

Jones addressed the most recent incident Monday on the House floor.

“It’s shameful that this body during a month where we honor Black voices and history want to replay out this type of Jim Crow thinking that’s rooted in a legacy of racism,” Jones told The Post.

Although the resolution focused on Russell’s Grammy win, her music is tied into her political activism, she said. In recent years, she has been an outspoken critic of Tennessee’s Republican lawmakers, including their efforts to expel the Tennessee Three as well as enact legislation targeting LGBTQ+ rights and banning drag shows. When such laws passed, Russell in March organized the Love Rising benefit concert in Nashville, which featured more than a dozen artists, including herself, Williams, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell, Hozier and Mya Byrne.

Williams said she felt compelled to organize the concert to fight what she called “legislative terrorism.”

Russell, who moved to Nashville seven years ago, didn’t know about Jones’s resolution until after the controversy erupted. She said it is clear why Faison blocked passage of the resolution and his Republican colleagues joined him in sending it to a committee instead of debating it on the House floor.

Hardly anyone would have noticed Russell’s legislative honor — the likes of which are routinely given to Tennesseans who have won professional accolades, such as teacher or fire chief of the year — if it sailed through. By blocking it, Faison shone a flood light on Russell and her music, Russell said.

“They only succeeded in vastly amplifying our voices,” she said.

Other artists have rallied around Russell. On Friday, Paramore rejected “any acknowledgment or honor” from the Tennessee House until Russell is given the same honor. In a statement to The Post, Paramore singer Hayley Williams praised Russell as an “incredibly talented musician and songwriter” whose music is deeply rooted in folk and Americana but nevertheless spans genres.

Russell is also “a brilliant Black woman,” she added.

“The blatant racism of our state leadership is embarrassing and cruel,” Williams said.

At the end of Monday’s session, Jones, the representative who introduced the resolutions honoring Russell and Paramore, tried to address his colleagues about the former being blocked.

“Black History Month is happening every day, and just a few minutes ago there was a resolution to honor someone who is making Black history,” he said before House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) interrupted to say the time was to be used for announcements, not engaging in debate.

“The announcement is to announce that there are people in our midst who are making Black history, and I want to honor them during this Black History Month, including those who are here in Nashville and in our state of Tennessee who are making Black history every day and deserve to be honored.

“I would like to announce that it’s concerning that this body chooses to denigrate, or to — ” he said, before Sexton cut off his mic, apologized and moved on.


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