Whitney Houston would not have won four out of her six Grammy awards, under this year's Grammy's restructured categories, which slashed dozens of ethnic music award categories, including Hawaiian, Haitian, Cajun, Latin jazz, contemporary blues, regional Mexican. The categories Best R&B Performance and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, two awards that Houston won, have been eliminated.
The Recording Academy announced last year that this year's 54th annual awards would cut 31 of its categories in order to make its selection process more competitive. Recording Academy president Neil Portnow told the Los Angeles Times, "We stand behind our process. ...Change is always hard for those that are used to something happening in the same way for a long time. But sometimes change is good."
This decision is offensive to ethnic musicians, harmful to low-budget indie labels, and further proof that the yearly money-making spectacle puts profits over the very thing it supposedly celebrates: music.
Dozens of musicians protested just outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday demanding renewed recognition for categories axed from the Grammy Awards last year. An organization called Grammy Watch formed last year in opposition to the category restructuring. On Thursday, the organization presented a petition to the Recording Academy officials signed by about 23,000 people.
In addition, four Latin jazz artists filed a lawsuit with the New York Supreme Court last August, claiming that the dropping of such categories had adversely affected their careers. They also said the academy was violating its "contractual obligations" to its 21,000 members.
For Latin musicians, eliminating these categories from the Grammys is hurtful, but also potentially damaging to the quality and purity of the music. According to Oscar Hernandez, a Grammy Award-winning pianist and founder of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, "[Winning a Grammy has] given me the credibility that I need to go forward to do what I do, to do the music that I love, and give me the stamp of credibility across many boundaries. I’ve traveled all over the world playing my music. And it’s an important part of what we do, for sure."
He continued, "And for them to all of a sudden eliminate the category? For what? For the sake of expediency? For the sake of saving a few dollars? … It’s not the correct decision, that’s for sure."
Grammy-nominated Cajun/Zydeco artist Lisa Haley said, "Speaking myself for the worldwide Zydeco/Cajun musical community, the idea that genres of music as diverse as Hawaiian, Native American and Zydeco/Cajun should be forced to compete against each other for a single Grammy is deplorable, an insult to our respective and growing genres, each of which are widely diverse, treasured and richly cultured American musical styles."
One scholar at the University of Texas called this decision "the McDonaldization of music" and said cultural banality will result. I agree. The Academy's decision is insulting to ethnic musicians, putting profits over musical talent.
Whether or not the lawsuit, which is led by leading New York City Latin jazz drummer Bobby Sanabria, can move forward remains to be seen. But, the elimination of these categories undermines the mission of the Grammys and promotes only mainstream pop and hip hop. And judging from Nicky Minaj and Chris Brown's dreadful performances last night, that's most certaintly not a good thing.
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