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Music

Who are Black Pumas, the Grammys’ most mysterious new artist nominee?

Black Pumas
Singer Eric Burton, left, and guitarist Adrian Quesada of Black Pumas, a 2020 Grammy nominee for best new artist.
(Greg Giannukos)

The best new artist category at the Grammys is always expected to introduce some unfamiliar names. But this year’s ticket, announced Wednesday morning, features one that’s nearly unheard of, prompting the question (and inevitable Google search): Who are Black Pumas?

ATO Records, the fledgling group’s label, says Black Pumas are a soul-funk duo from Austin, Texas, that consists of guitarist-producer Adrian Quesada and singer Eric Burton. The pair united after Quesada launched a search in 2017 for a vocal collaborator and discovered Burton through a mutual friend.

Their eponymous debut album dropped June 21 to mostly favorable reviews, with Pitchfork hailing Burton for his “sweet, plaintive voice” and Quesada for his “densely woven tapestries” on instrumental. Some of their more popular tracks include “Colors,” “Fire” and “Black Moon Rising.”

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Quesada, 42, is not new to the Grammys, though. He previously played for Grupo Fantasma, which nabbed a trophy in 2011 for best Latin rock album. Quesada has also lent his talents to another Austin-based band, Brownout, as well as solo acts, from Prince to Daniel Johnston.

Fresher to the music scene is Burton, a 30-year-old who got his start in church and musical theater growing up in the San Fernando Valley. Before meeting Quesada, he flexed his smooth vocal chops as a street performer at Santa Monica Pier and, eventually, downtown Austin.

Come the Grammys ceremony on Jan. 26, the duo will compete in the new artist race against Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, Lizzo, Maggie Rogers, Rosalía, Tank and the Bangas and Yola. Black Pumas previously won best new band at the 2019 Austin Music Awards.


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