Ballad of the unknown Grammys -- Competition can be ferocious even for the lesser-known honors like polka and liner notes

Most people will tune in to watch Clint Black croon or see if Queen Latifah nabs the solo rap award. But enquiring Grammy minds want to know more. Will Brazilian star Milton Nascimento win Best World Music album over the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart? Will the Victoria’s Secret-like design for Barbra Streisand’s Just for the Record…box be crowned Best Album Package? Will Jimmy Sturr take home the Best Polka Album award again?

They’re not all presented on TV, but there are a whopping 78 Grammy categories in 1992. Most of their winners are announced early in the evening with no cameras around, then coldly summarized during the telecast. The list started to expand in the late ’70s to reflect the growing diversity of the music industry — and these days, there are awards not only for world music, package design, and polka but also for children’s music, six styles of gospel, and even liner notes.

The seething hotbed of contention, though, is the Best Polka Album award. Established in 1985 after nearly a decade of lobbying by organizations like the International Polka Association, it provides overdue recognition to a musical community that thrives at state fairs and small-town halls. Nominees have included accordion gods like Eddie Blazonczyk and Walter Ostanek. But for five of the last six years, the same upstate New York bandleader has won — saxophonist Jimmy Sturr, nominated again this year for his Live! at Gilley’s album. Within the polka community, many feel that honoring only the pop-oriented Sturr does a disservice to the music’s more ethnic Tex-Mex and Germanic styles and that Sturr now wins simply because voters recognize his name. Who said the lesser-known Grammys had to be boring?