Three Acts Win Big at the Grammys: Two Ethiopian-Americans seated among the stars

Above: Wayna (pictured above) and Kenna are the two
Ethiopian Americans who earned their seats as
Nominees at the 51st annual Grammy Awards ceremony
at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday night.

Published: February 8, 2009

LOS ANGELES — At the 51st annual Grammy Awards ceremony, at Staples Center here on Sunday night, three disparate acts were in a close race, with hard-core rap, rock and an album of lush Americana vying for the top award.

But it was Robert Plant and Alison Krauss who won album of the year — for a total of five awards — for “Raising Sand” (Rounder), their album of luxuriant renditions of old rockabilly and country songs as well as original material. Lil Wayne, the bawdy and gifted New Orleans rapper, had a total of three, including one for a four-way collaboration. The British rock band Coldplay also had three awards. Read More.

Neo-soul singer from Bowie traded the West Wing for Grammys glory
Wayna’s “Lovin You (Music)” is nominated for a Grammy for best urban/alternative performance.

Wayna: A Soulful Diva in the Making
By Tseday Alehegn
Tadias Staff Writer

New York (Tadias) – Friends and family may know Woyneab Miraf Wondwossen (Wayna) as the young University of Maryland alumna who double majored in English and Speech Communications, and went on to serve as one of the first Ethiopian American researchers at the White House under Former President Bill Clinton.

Recently, however, Wayna has waded into new waters and is beginning to make a name for herself among America’s favorite musicians. She’s nominated for a Grammy.

Wayna’s sophomore album Higher Ground, which propelled her to the prestigious nomination, was released in 2008. The new album, just like her debut CD Moments of Clarity, is an infectious blend of original songs that fuses soul, world, and hip hop sounds accompanied by lyrics on love, loss, faith and courage.

“I’ve poured some of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn into these songs,” Wayna divulges. Music has always been one of Wayna’s deep-seated passions, and her most recent tunes echo her personal struggles, hopes and victories through her own unique and passionate voice. Asked how she views herself and her work, she replies, “I would define myself as an artist who is constantly growing and searching for new ways to express myself vocally, lyrically, and musically. I search for the feeling of losing myself in a song, to create timeless music that speaks to people’s hearts and conveys important messages.”

Born in Ethiopia, Wayna immigrated with her family to the United States when she was just a toddler. As a young girl, she chased after her love of music by starring in popular musical theater productions like Annie, The Boyfriend, and Damn Yankees, as well as by touring with the children’s musical revue company Songs, Inc. Her college years continued to be a time of musical experimentation as she taught herself to play piano on the old Steinway in her dormitory. After being crowned Miss Black Unity of the University of Maryland and earning a one-year tuition scholarship, she went on to start a gospel quartet. The successful and talented quartet performed at the world renowned Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, where they placed as finalist in the Amateur Night competition.

Wayna soon received several opportunities to travel as a soloist with the gospel choir all the while unearthing her talent in singing. But it was after being invited to perform at her university’s annual tradition, A Tribute to African Women, that Wayna ended up writing the ballad that became her first original piece performed for an audience.

“On that day,” she recalls, “music became more than a form of entertainment or a source of comfort to me. I began to see it as a tool to heal and inspire people, including myself.”

Asked to identify her role models in the music world, Wayna chooses the colorful sounds of Chaka Khan, Donnie Hathaway, Billy Holiday, Stevie Wonder and the ’70s soul singer Minnie Riperton. She also enjoys listening to contemporary artists ranging from the soulful voices of D’Angelo and Jill Scott to emerging spoken word performer W. Ellington Felton.

For her personal role models, Wayna selects her mom Tidenkialesh Emagnu and her late aunt Yeshi Immebet Imagnu.

“It wasn’t always easy growing up as an Ethiopian-American, especially at the time I was coming of age,” she confesses. “Because there were far fewer of us here — far different from the experience Ethiopian teenagers have today.”

Remembering the strength and encouragement her family gave her, Wayna recounts lessons she learned at a young age:

“My aunt Yeshie Imagnu made it a point to teach me elements of our history and culture that weren’t obvious just by living in an Ethiopian home. And my mom, though she has resided in the U.S. for 25 years, is one of the truest representations of our culture that I’ve ever encountered,” she says with pride.

Now that she is older, she says she wears her Ethiopian-ness like a badge of honor.

“In fact, I’ve promised myself I will not go on stage unless I’m wearing at least one article of Ethiopian clothing or jewelry,” she adds. “It’s a symbol of who I am.”

In the end, what Wayna teaches us all is far deeper than her lifelong love of song; she teaches us to excel in every aspect of our lives.

“I would encourage Tadias readers to explore all their interests and talents — not just the ones that are validated by our community,” she says.

“What do you wake up thinking about in the middle of the night? What did you love doing for hours on end as a child? Those things are our passions, and we owe it to ourselves and our creator to develop and share them with the world.”

In short, she says, “There’s absolutely nothing we can’t do.”

Tadias Magazine congratulates Wayna on her nomination.

VIDEO: Watch Wayna’s debut video, “My Love”:

You can purchase her new CD at

4 Responses to “Three Acts Win Big at the Grammys: Two Ethiopian-Americans seated among the stars”

  1. 1 Geich Feb 9th, 2009 at 3:35 am

    Dear wayna,

    You have it all…looks , brain, talent, passion i can go on and on… I am proud of you and your family

    Keep it up!!!
    God Bless you,


  2. 2 tewbel tefferi Feb 9th, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    She is very beautiful indeed. It is a great achievement for the new generation of Ethiopian Americans.

    God Speed.

  3. 3 moses Feb 10th, 2009 at 6:59 am

    We Ethiopians back at home are all proud of you Wayna. You’ve got the total package and we wish you the best!

  4. 4 santos Feb 22nd, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Ohh really fantastic voice. Above all, Wayna is merited with a profound knowledge of writing scriptures.

    May God fulfill your wishes,


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