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The Grammy Travesty Continues: Commentary from John Santos

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In April 2011, the National Academy Of Recording Arts And Sciences announced the elimination of 31 Grammy Award categories, claiming that the scaling down process made the Grammy Award more important. With the disappearance of categories like Latin Jazz, Traditional Blues, Classical Crossover, Cajun, Hawaiian, and more, artists around the world couldn't disagree more as they anticipate the devastating effect upon their careers. The official telecast of the Grammy Awards is about two weeks away, and unfortunately, NARAS continues to act as if nothing has happened. Fortunately we have tireless advocates willing to fight for musicians and their rights like San Francisco Latin Jazz icon John Santos. In an impassioned letter, Santos updates us on the status of the Grammy Travesty and encourages us to continue to take action.

Well, it's that time of year again—Grammy fever. CBS ramps it up with a constant barrage of mega-bucks commercials of all lengths and even specials leading up to the February 12th telecast that is expected to produce multi-gazillions of dollars. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) inundates the membership with nomination and voting materials, invitations to the big event and its surrounding activities including post and pre-parties, local nominee celebrations and simulcasts, and other propaganda. We're in the midst of the classic, inescapable corporate full press publicity campaign on TV, radio, print ads, internet, email, facebook, Twitter, and regular old US Postal Service.

But this year, NARAS' brilliant Grammy image has a dark secret. All the smiling faces, glitter, multi-million dollar sets and promises of America's greatest Vegas act cannot hide the deceit, ill-will and unethical behavior they took a few months ago when they unceremoniously eliminated thirty-one categories from Grammy consideration. It is particularly dishonest and distasteful that NARAS, a non-profit organization that is supposed to honor excellence in the music of our country and advocate for the benefit of its membership, had the gaul to lop off mainly just categories that are the least commercial and happen to be among the most creative and important “roots" categories. They also happen to be the categories that represented what ethnic diversity the Grammys might claim.

The corporate music industry that makes the lion's share of the profits generated by musicians and the Grammys is of course fully supportive of NARAS' narrow-mindedness. The latest special issue of Billboard Magazine, dated January 7th, 2012 is 100% Grammy propaganda with full-page ads congratulating the stars and the newest hopefuls backed with huge promo dollars for their nominations. Of course there is not one mention of the conspicuous absence this year of the 31 cut categories nor the growing international uproar that has produced over 1200 published pieces over the last few months protesting and condemning the outrageously insensitive action by NARAS in all forms of media. The current Billboard also features hypocritical statements directly from NARAS including these gems:

“Recording Academy Voting Membership: A Privilege Worth Earning." (So long as you don't mind having no say in the organization gutting the voting categories of most of their musical diversity.)

“ . . . members become part of a collective that advocates for the rights of music makers . . ." (at the same time that they reverse the hard fought battles and decisions of former open-minded administrations that deemed it appropriate to recognize more American music than just the most profitable.)

Music's Biggest Night as they have self-proclaimed the Grammy telecast, never included much, if any of the wonderful music they have now reduced or eliminated, but with the current hatchet job, they now officially sever ties with those undeserving, insignificant and marginal musical styles that by some coincidence are also among the deepest and most creative, albeit unfortunately, non-lucrative.

They have the cojones to announce the induction of Big Bill Broonzy, Sergio Mendes' Brasil 66, and Martin Luther King into the Grammy Hall of Fame at the same time that they cut down the Blues categories, eliminate Latin Jazz (Sergio's 1966 group would not be eligible with this year's eliminations), cut down Gospel and Rhythm and Blues, and eliminate Contemporary Jazz (Dr. King is turning in his grave). A well-intentioned writer states in this issue “This crop of inductees also fleshes out the story of Latin music in America." (PLEASE—it most certainly does not do anything close to that) But he makes the valid point in a sideways manner, that “ . . . the rich and far reaching legacy created by Latin musicians . . . often gets lumped into one catch-all category . . ." This, of course is exactly what NARAS has done with the 2012 awards, by eliminating the Latin Jazz, and Traditional World Music categories, and combining certain Mexican categories.

They have a category called Tropical Latin. What in hell is that supposed to mean? NARAS officials write in Billboard about education and social strategy, but fail to see the hypocrisy and the ramifications of disenfranchising entire communities from the Grammy process.

Our country is full of vibrant musical communities directly and negatively affected by this issue. The earning capabilities of the artists as well as the businesses and schools that present and teach the various types of music that were cut are all compromised. Marginalizing the musical expression of these communities in this way also carries deeper repercussions than the immediate economic hits. Kids and youth who have spent years studying these types of music and have been properly taught to see music with a broad perspective are now confronted with the further invalidation of non-commercial music, narrowing their appreciation and understanding of music to only the most visible and most highly promoted which is clearly not where all the quality and creativity lie. It is obviously devastating to teachers who have spent our lives trying to give students rich alternatives to the top 40 mentality spoon-fed to them via mass media at every moment.

It should also not be lost that NARAS itself has severely tainted its own reputation and credibility, both with the membership and with the public, although they are in complete denial.

For those who don't know, these are some of the categories that were eliminated:

Native American Contemporary Jazz Classical Crossover Latin Jazz Traditional Blues Instrumental Rock Zydeco Cajun Hawaiian Traditional World Music Traditional Folk Music Traditional Gospel Contemporary R&B Gospel Polka Contemporary Folk four categories of Rhythm & Blues

Don't be taken in by the lies NARAS administration and staff are putting forth. They say all of the eliminated categories were cheapening the value of the Grammy award and statue. Au contraire—it has been clearly devalued by their non-inclusive actions. They say everyone is still welcome to submit even though our categories have been eliminated. Thanks a lot—so now we can compete in categories that don't apply to us and where the voting membership does not know our music, giving us zero chance of seriously competing for a Grammy. For example, Latin Jazz is performed by any size group, from duos to big band. The only category that even crosses into this area now is Big Band Jazz where duos, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, septets, etc, cannot apply and if your Latin Jazz project does happen to be a big band format, then you're competing in the US against our national art form—basically a snowball's chance in hell. My five nominations (over a 40 year career) were in three categories that have all been eliminated.

I've been a member for some 25 years, supporting the organization with yearly dues, and by volunteering for Grammys in the Schools programs. I lobbied for years and wrote many letters, attended countless meetings and had many a phone conversation with various administration and staff about how to improve the organization and have always felt that there was very slow progress, but at least it was progress—up until now. This disrespectful mandate by the Academy sets the organization, civil rights, and creative expression in the United States back several decades. It matters not whether their decision was made out of ignorance, arrogance or racism, it is simply wrong and to add insult to injury, was made by secret committee and handed down seven months after the eligibility year had begun, meaning that all of us who produce our projects on a timeline to be eligible for a nomination were abruptly dropped on our arses in the middle of the Grammy year!

They are also trying to ignore away the fact that they secretly changed the eligibility rules for numbers of submissions required to have a category and didn't bother to let anyone know until after they announced the axing of all the categories based on not having enough submissions! Simply disgraceful! We'd love to take a poll of the membership to get the administration and staff that created and support this colonial mentality removed, but NARAS has refused to allow us access to the membership rosters. This is a violation of non-profit corporate conduct in the State of California and legal actions are being pursued in California as well as in New York. But with no money to back up our legal challenges, that remains a slow and difficult proposition.

If this were not enough, after stabbing a large portion of the membership in the back, many of the staff, and administration have admitted that it was a huge mistake in every way, but they have refused to acknowledge this officially and refuse to correct it. They seem to think that since we appear to be relatively few, we will just disappear under the glitz and clamor of the Grammy apparatus. Although we are all working stiffs and have much more important and urgent things we'd rather do, we don't plan to let that happen and we hope you will help us go viral and let the world, NARAS, CBS, and the sponsors/advertisers of the Grammys, all know that this is not acceptable and we are considering an occupation of the Grammys and a boycott of their products and “services" until they really fix it.

Herbie Hancock, Eddie Palmieri, Paul Simon (also inducted into the Hall of Fame this year), Carlos Santana, Bill Cosby, Esperanza Spalding, Bonnie Raitt, Stanley Clark, David Amram, Pete Escovedo, Oscar Hernandez, Larry Harlow and many others have openly condemned NARAS' actions. It is a shame though not completely surprising that many more celebrities have not spoken up strongly against this culturally devastating position by NARAS. Many of them have large potential earnings at stake and are not willing to risk a penny of it. Others don't feel that NARAS has ever deserved our participation and support.

Our informal national coalition has held bi-coastal press conferences and written related posts and letters ad-nauseam. We hope that the action of posting on the internet and writing letters to the appropriate parties will be carried out by anyone and everyone who feels strongly about maintaining any semblance of diversity in the music business and understands what the threat of capitalism-gone-berzerk in the music business means to artistic freedom and creativity. We are extremely encouraged however by the continued international support and today's news that both Reverend Jesse Jackson and Cornell West have joined our ranks with strong statements against NARAS' actions and demands for equitable resolution (See below for links).

The 54th Grammy awards telecast is sold out (in more ways than one) and we also congratulate all the nominees and winners. But when our esteemed organization violates it's membership, its own mandates, and the public trust, we are all losers. Please help us get NARAS back on track. It can be a very worthwhile organization when run from the heart instead of the wallet.

Visit Grammy Watch for updates, addresses, and info, and let CBS know your thoughts directly with the link below, too . . . .

In solidarity and with gratitude, as your help is much needed and highly appreciated,

John Santos

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This story appears courtesy of The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz.
Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved.

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