The Rev. Jesse Jackson has waded into the debate over Grammy Awards organizers’ decision to slash nearly one-third of awards categories this year. Ahead of the February 12 ceremony, the civil rights leader sent a letter to the head of the Recording Academy calling for a meeting about the cuts, which some musicians view as ethnically discriminatory, the New York Times’ ArtsBeat Blog reports. Jackson also hinted at the potential for protests.
Neil Portnow, the president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, expressed openness to hearing Jackson’s views. “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,” Portnow said in a statement quoted by the Times.
Diversity has never exactly been a hallmark of the Grammy Awards. Last year’s ceremony routinely displayed baffling ignorance of black musicians, whether failing to include rapper Guru in its people-who-died-last-year montage, using a 1996-era photo of Jay-Z in lieu of Hova’s physical presence at the event, or hallucinating that Eminem’s Recovery was worthy of being called the Best Rap Album in any category other than first-week sales. In 2009, SPIN editorial director Charles Aaron posted a list of artists who never won a Grammy (“aside from the stray Lifetime Achievement make-up call or random DVD nod”), and it’s intense: Bob Marley, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Sam Cooke, and on and on.
The current dispute involves the Recording Academy’s decision in April to cut the categories from 109 to 73, doing away individual awards for smaller genres like Latin jazz and zydeco. A group of Latin jazz musicians has filed a lawsuit accusing Grammy organizers of discriminating against minorities. Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Herbie Hancock, and Carlos Santana have all publicly opposed the cuts, saying they’re a bad deal for non-mainstream artists.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Jackson urged “cooperation, not confrontation” with Grammy organizers. But he didn’t rule out protesting the award ceremony if discussions should fail. “We are prepared to work with artists and ministers and activists to occupy at the Grammys so our appeal of consideration of mercy really might be heard,” Jackson told the AP.
LL Cool J, who will host this year’s Grammys, actually boycotted the ceremony himself more than a decade ago. That’s because in 1989, organizers decided not to include the then-new award for Best Rap Song during the televised event. (Though DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince won the award, for “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” that paragon of controversy Will Smith also chose to stay home.) The Grammys didn’t give out an award for Best Rap Album until 1996. When it comes to issues of race and ethnicity, a lot of parents probably understand better than the Recording Academy.