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UW-Madison Professor receives second Grammy nomination

MADISON, Wis. – This year’s list of Grammy nominees includes names like Cardi B, Kacey Musgraves, Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga. Among those lucky enough to get a nomination alongside music’s biggest names is a semi-retired professor from Wisconsin.

Jim Leary is a professor emeritus who co-founded and directs the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures at UW-Madison. Leary is nominated in the “Best Album Notes” category for his work on the album “Alpine Dreaming: The Helvetia Records Story, 1920-1924”. The album is a collection of songs from Helvetia Records, a label started by a Swiss immigrant in Wisconsin in the early 20th Century. The album features Swiss and German folk songs.

Leary wrote a 60-page booklet for the album that features archival photos and detailed descriptions, backgrounds and translations to each song. Leary says the album captures the rich, diverse sounds of Wisconsin. The Rice Lake native says he is grateful for the recognition.

“It was a real thrill to hear that I got a nomination,” Leary told CBS 58 News in an interview in the basement of Memorial Library on UW’s campus. “It’s not that easy to do and I’m in good company with some other nominees but I’m pretty stoked about it.”

Leary’s work is a painstakingly long and detailed process that requires obtaining the original work, restoring the record, creating a digital version, researching history, getting translations and several other steps that he and his collaborators at UW spend months doing.

Leary recalls listening to the Helvetia record for the first time.

“The first time I heard [the record] was just putting it on a turntable with headphones,” Leary said. “It was an old, scratchy sound but out of it came these mystical, mystical voices and instruments and it was pretty magical.”

This is Leary’s second Grammy nomination. He earned a nomination in 2015, although he did not win. Leary hopes this time will be different, but win or lose, he plans on enjoying the moment. He said he did not think that he would ever get one nomination, let alone two. And he is not done yet. Leary says he’s working on a new project that he hopes will earn him a Grammy nomination in the future.

He will travel to Los Angeles later this week with his family.

The Grammys are on Sunday at 7 p.m. only on CBS.

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