Yesterday in Los Angeles, a group of Latin jazz musicians marched into the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences headquarters with a heavy stack of documents in hand. Those documents, according to Billboard.biz, contained a reported 23,000 signatures in support of the reinstatement of 31 categories that the NARAS eliminated from its Grammy Awards last year (technically speaking, 52 awards were cut, but 21 were created).
The dozen or so musicians and activists delivering the signatures are part of a considerably large (didn’t you hear us say 23,000?) group of disgruntled musicians and music industry employees who have been protesting the NARAS’ controversial cuts — which included awards for Latin jazz, regional Mexican/Tejano, banda/Norteno, and hard rock/metal, in addition to gender-specific categories in pop, R&B, rock, and country — since June of last year (did we mention they added contemporary Christian music in the Gospel category?). Back in August, four Latin jazz artists even filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court, claiming that the eliminations had negatively affected their careers, and that the organization was violating its “contractual obligations” to its members. The protesting group counts among it the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who recently demanded to meet with NARAS president Neil Portnow over what he and many protestors see as ethnically discriminatory shutouts.
“Under President Neil Portnow’s leadership, NARAS has failed in its mission to honor, propagate and nurture all forms of American born music and to educate the general public about all genres, not giving preference to one over the other,” National Hispanic Media Coalition’s Inez Gonzales said in a press conference organized by the group yesterday. “This action not only reduces diversity on the Grammys show, but most importantly it negatively impacts the musicians’ careers.”
As SPIN has discussed previously, NARAS leadership doesn’t exactly have a history of embracing ethnic diversity. As our editorial director Charles Aaron pointed out in 2009, the organization, over the years, has snubbed such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, and Public Enemy. We’re not expecting the NARAS to fawn over Odd Future anytime soon, but considering the 23,000 names on those documents include a whole slew of NARAS members, we wouldn’t be surprised if the organization’s leadership responded to the protest in some semblance of apology.
In response to the protestors, Portnow has (more or less) said, “We’re sorry you feel that way.”
“We’re an open organization where anybody can be a member and join and have a voice and be part of the process. We prefer those [members] that work with us,” he told Billboard. “For those who take a hard line with lawsuits and protests, that’s their choice. It wouldn’t be my preference as a way to work together.”
The dozen musicians who marched into NARAS headquarters yesterday weren’t actually able to slam the 23,000 signatures onto any desks — instead, they were taken by a security officer into the building — but have told Billboard.biz that they will be outside the Staples Center (on the corner of Figueroa and Pico from 3:30 to 5 p.m., if you were interested in showing up), protesting, on the afternoon of Grammy night. There will also be an alternative showcase that evening at Mama Juana’s nightclub in Studio City.