Nashville’s very own Jelly Roll is headed to the 66th Annual Grammy Awards.
Antioch native Jason DeFord, more commonly known as Jelly Roll, was nominated for two Grammy Awards back in November of 2023 – Best New Artist and Best Country Duo/Group Performance. His Grammy nominations were announced just two days after he was named “Best New Artist,” at the 2023 Country Music Association Awards.
Despite the fame and accolades, DeFord hasn’t lost sight of what he truly cherishes and the community which he so lovingly represents.
“There’s a tale of two Nashvilles happening right now. I represent both Music Row, which has embraced me so lovingly, but also my local community that raised me,” he told the Tennessean following his CMA Award win. “The bartenders, bar backs, construction workers, cooks, firemen, first responders, restaurant table bussers and valet parking attendants truly run this town and they were cheering for me as if I was one of their own all day today.”
Once the Grammy nominations were announced, DeFord took to social media to express his gratitude to his fans. In a raw and heartfelt video, DeFord expressed his appreciation, noting that it took him seven attempts to record the video.
“I’m not sure if I should post this or not because I’m so emotional,” he said through tears. “The greatest honor an artist can ever hear is that they’ve been nominated for a Grammy, and I got to hear that this morning. I ain’t cried like this since my daddy died.”
The emotion was so overwhelming for the artist, he spent over an hour crying.
“I’ve spent my whole life being a large man but feeling unseen,” he told the Tennessean. “In the past two days, I’ve never felt more seen, accepted and respected.”
Accompanying DeFord to the Grammys? His mother. She lovingly nicknamed DeFord “jelly roll” when he was a child and the name just stuck he told CBS in January.
Shortly after posting his nomination video, DeFord posted a video to social media where he was seen calling his mother, inviting her to the award ceremony. He described the event as the “biggest thing that’s ever happened.”
“We’ll get you a nice dress baby for sure,” he told his mother. “We’ll get you the best dress.”
The Grammy Awards air on Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. Central Time. Prior to watching the show, here’s what else to know about Jelly Roll and his road to stardom.
He gave a passionate speech before Congress on the fentanyl crisis
In January, DeFord appeared in front of Congress, where he gave an earnest testimony of the “heartbreaking impacts of fentanyl.”
Speaking during a session of the United States Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs entitled, “Stopping the Flow of Fentanyl: Public Awareness and Legislative Solutions,” he passionately urged committee members to discuss issues surrounding narcotics and narcotics addiction with their colleagues and constituents.
DeFord read from a five-minute long statement. He pointed out that during that time, someone would die of a drug overdose — and that there was a 72% chance that the overdose would be fentanyl-related.
Due to a criminal record and restricted voting rights, DeFord admitted he does not care to follow political conversations often. However fentanyl transcends partisanship and ideology, he said.
DeFord said he didn’t aim to defend the use of illegal drugs, but instead be a part of the solution as he was once a part of the problem. Moving forward, DeFord suggested to officials and policy makers to try and understand the root causes of drug addiction, as opposed to ‘bullying drug addicts.'”
“I stand here as a regular member of society. I am a stupid songwriter, y’all, but I have firsthand witnessed this in a way most people have not,” he said as he closed his speech. “I encourage y’all to not only pass this bill, but I encourage you to bring it up where it matters at the kitchen table. Thank you for your time.”
A week filled of award wins and nominations
The week of Nov. 8 was a rollercoaster of emotions for Deford, as he was notified of his Grammy nominations just a day after he took home the award for Best New Artist at the CMA Awards.
DeFord is nominated for his Lainey Wilson collaboration “Save Me,” as well as for Best New Artist alongside Coco Jones, Gracie Abrams, Fred Again.., Ice Spice, Noah Kahan, Victoria Monét, and The War and Treaty.
After accepting his award on the Bridgestone Arena stage, he delivered a fervorous, profound speech which ultimately went viral.
“There is something poetic about a 39-year-old man winning New Artist of the Year. I don’t know where you’re at in your life or what you’re going through, but I wanna tell you to keep going, baby. I wanna tell you that success is on the other side [of what you’re going through],” he passionately exclaimed. “I wanna tell you that it’s gonna be okay. I want to tell you that the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror for a reason — because what’s in front of you is so much more important than what’s behind you.”
“Let’s party Nashville!”
DeFord was so overcome with excitement that he shattered his award just moments after the show — well, kind of. Once the ceremony concluded, DeFord headed backstage at Bridgestone Arena to chat with the media. When he finished talking to the press, he dropped the award which broke into pieces on the ground.
Luckily for DeFord, the shattered trophy was only one of the stage trophies used for photos. The actual trophy with his official engraving, will be sent at a later date.
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He donated a semi truck of toys to Nashville’s children
During the holiday season, DeFord made a promise to put on the “biggest” toy drive in Music City. In December, he fulfilled that promise when he donated a semi truck full of toys to The Last Minute Toy Store, a Nashville non-profit organization.
In a Facebook post, Nashville Sheriff Daron Hall thanked Jelly Roll and said he is changing both lives and music.
“I met Jelly Roll over a year ago at the facility he was once housed. Before CMA/Grammy awards and much of his success said he wanted to give back. Today a truck loaded with toys showed up at the The Last Minute Toy Store,” he said. “You are changing music and lives. Thank you!”
Another post shared by The Last Minute Toy Store also praised the performer for his generous donation.
“The Last Minute Toy Store needed some gifts for 7,675 kids,” said the post. “Jelly Roll sent over a TRACTOR TRAILER… and DUNKED it.”
He made a woman’s wish come true after she was given only months to live
When a terminally ill fan expressed her dying wish was to meet DeFord, he didn’t hesitate to make that wish a reality.
Suzanne Durham, who spent many years battling a substance abuse disorder herself, is a woman who spent equally as many years helping others battling addiction. In 2023, she was diagnosed with cancer, with not too much hope for the future.
In a viral video, Durham said her dying wish was to meet DeFord, as she related to his struggles and years of being behind bars. In July DeFord made that dream come true and met Durham and friends at a church in Madison where they had powerful conversations and shed a few tears.
During their meeting DeFord performed 5 songs including his hits, “Save Me” and “Need a Favor.”
Following the sweet encounter, DeFord’s wife and podcaster Bunnie posted on TikTok to express her admiration for Durham.
“Just seeing this woman that has been given five months to live, who has spent her entire life trying to help other people. Even her last dying wish, she wanted her friends to be there to be able to experience this with her, and she was just so happy she could give back to her friend who were in recovery…. That’s what life is all about.”
Jelly Roll’s journey from felony charges to stardom wasn’t easy
DeFord’s journey to the glamour and splendor of musical fame wasn’t an easy one.
Before he was racking up award nominations and making history on Billboard Rock, Country charts, he found himself behind the bars of jail cells. As a teenager and into his 20s, he was arrested and served time for aggravated robbery and possession with intent to sell charges, respectively.
As a free man, DeFord laid roots in underground hip-hop, sleeping in a van and selling homemade CDs on street corners. Slowly, he began cultivating a following. But when the album sales weren’t enough to support his family, DeFord considered walking away from a musical career. That is until his father encouraged him not to give up.
It would be a decade before DeFord fully savored the fruits of his labor. On Dec. 9, 2022 DeFord performed to a sold-out crowd at Bridgestone Arena.
Years later, DeFord hasn’t forgotten about the city that raised him and how his hardships molded him into the man and performer he is today.
“I still choke down tears every single night of tour,” DeFord told the Tennessean back in 2022. “Every single night there’s a moment on stage where I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and also the feeling of accomplishment of what my original goal was: to help people with music.”
Reporters Marcus K. Dowling, Audrey Gibbs, Brad Schmitt, and Matthew Leimkuehler contributed to this report. Diana Leyva covers trending news and service for The Tennessean. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter at @_leyvadiana
First appeared on www.tennessean.com