There is a protest afoot, and if some activists get to have it their way, then a wave of protesters will soon be storming the offices of the Recording Academy (peacefully, of course).
The source of the discontentment is the Recording Academy’s decision last April to pare their award categories down from 109 to 78, effective for this year’s 54th Annual Grammy Awards. At the time, the decision was seen as a way to streamline the awards process, and make the Grammy prize more exclusive.
Not everyone agrees with the Academy’s assessment. Since April, the cries from the minority music community have grown exponentially louder. Of the 31 categories dropped, many directly affect minority communities — a point which hasn’t been lost on the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Jackson has decried the cuts, saying that the elimination of awards for Native American and Hawaiian musicians, and cuts in Latin jazz, R&B and other categories were ill-considered and unfair. Princeton professor and activist Cornel West also expressed his concerns in a statement on Friday, saying: “I believe the elimination of the ethnic Grammy categories is unjust and unfair.”
To increase the decibel level of displeasure from minority communities, Jackson penned a letter on behalf of Rainbow Push Coalition of U.S. civil rights groups, addressing it to Academy CEO Neil Portnow.
Upon the receipt of the letter, the Recording Academy was quick to respond. “We are receptive to meeting with the Rev. Jackson to explain how our nomination process works and to show the resulting diverse group of nominees it produced for the 54th Grammys — many in the musical genres he cited in his letter,” Portnow said. “We also agree with the Rev. Jackson that the Grammys are about music, not sales. They have, and always will, stand for excellence in music and celebrating the impact all music has on our culture.”
But ultimately, will their meeting change anything?
In a day and age where positively spun press releases and faux peace talks are staged for the daily news cycles, there now seems to be a lot more talking than doing. For Portnow and the Recording Academy, their interests are focused solely on the bottom line of making the Grammys more attractive and palatable for advertisers. This leads their decision-making to be less about black, white and brown, and more about green.
Do I agree with their decision? Absolutely not. But I can certainly understand the motivation behind the cuts.
As it pertains to black America, fewer minority categories means fewer opportunities for us to have Grammy winners. The biggest hit from that decision goes directly to the artists who will be losing out on untold fortunes from their inability to place in front of their name, “Grammy winner.” So from their perspective, this is a horrible development. But maybe, just maybe, this can all be turned into a positive.
Perhaps with fewer categories, the quality of music will be raised to a higher level so that artists can eventually earn more consideration …
Perhaps minority musicians will take this shun from America’s music mainstream and begin to focus their energy on reconnecting with their communities in a more meaningful way …
Perhaps the absence of the categories will have such an impact, that the Recording Academy will reverse course and add even more minority categories for next year’s telecast.
Or maybe, this musical disenfranchisement will all play out like most civil rights issues dealing with minorities: People will complain. Jesse Jackson will get camera time. Nothing will change.
Sadly, smart money has to bet on the latter.