Artists Protest Grammy Award Cuts
“Sometimes America loses sight of some values because of money,” said Grammy winner Oscar Hernandez, “but when it comes to culture, it goes beyond money, and we as individuals need to fight against that.” Hernandez is the founder of Spanish Harlem Orchestra, who, in 2011, won the Best Tropical Latin Album Award, one of the categories that the Academy is eliminating. Hernandez will be among the artists holding a protest rally Sunday outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles as stars arrive to perform at the 54th annual Grammys ceremony.
In addition, musicians from the eliminated genres plan to hold a counter-concert in Studio City right after the Grammys, featuring artists from the eliminated genres, including Latin jazz, traditional and contemporary blues, Hawaiian music, Mexican Norteña, polka, Native American music, R&B, gospel, traditional and contemporary jazz, and Cajun.
The protesters demanded that the Recording Academy reinstate Grammy fields they removed or compressed, including Latin jazz. Miguel Perla, spokesman for Presented.org, the largest online Latino advocacy group in the U.S, delivered a petition to the Recording Academy’s offices:
“We are here to help the musicians get the message out. Over the last two weeks, we gathered 23,000 signatures from people all over the country, from Texas to New York, which shows that this isn’t just about the Latino artists. Our country has so many musical styles, and to delete a few categories that are very important to many people is a problem because the Grammys should represent the musical diversity of our country,” said Perla.
The Recording Academy offered no spokesperson to speak the press or to reply to the protesters, who accused the Academy of violating its own rules and discriminating against ethnic minorities.
“Over 70 percent of these categories represented ethnic and race-based styles of music. This simply gives off the smells of racism,” said Inez Gonzáles, executive vice president for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, who also said this decision is killing jobs. “This action not only reduces diversity on the Grammys show, but most importantly it negatively impacts the musicians’ careers. A Grammy award gives a starving musician an amazing and lucrative career opportunity.”
Daniel Glass, a veteran talent manager and music industry executive, whose clients include Grammy-Award-winning Phoenix, and the Grammy-nominated Two Door Cinema Club, said in a phone interview that he thinks differently.
“What happened is that over the years they added on and added on, and the Grammys got very diluted,” said Glass. “It looks to me that there were just too many categories and that everybody wanted to be nominated, but there are different levels of excellence. I think what they did was an exercise of simplifying the process, making it a little broader and more inclusive. I don’t think it was meant to be disrespectful. I also know that the Academy is being very responsive and is reconsidering things.”
Last year, Grammy executives announced that they would be cutting down the number of Grammy categories from 109 from 78 for the 2012 Grammy Awards in an effort to maintain "the prestige of the highest and only peer-recognized award in music." The decision was made after Steve Stoute, a former record company executive, purchased a full page in The New York Times to publish an open letter to the Grammy board on February 20.
In this letter, Stoute complained that “the Grammy Awards have clearly lost touch with contemporary popular culture,” citing among other examples that in 2008 “Kanye West's Graduation was beaten out for Album of the Year by Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters. This was the first time in 43 years that a jazz album won this category,” said Stoute.
Hernandez, who disagrees with Stoute, said that eliminating categories doesn’t make room for others: "What is next? Eliminate jazz because it isn't popular? Frank Sinatra said in the first Grammys it is about excellence, not about popularity or financial success."
Reach writer Carolina Cavaliere here