Recording Academy President Neil Portnow Will Step Down

Executive who ignited controversy by telling women to "step up" will leave his post next summer

Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy that oversees the Grammys, will step down next year. Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/REX Shutterstock

Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy, the organization that oversees the Grammy Awards, announced that he will step down at the end of his contract next summer.

Portnow did not give a specific reason for stepping down. In a statement released by the organization, the executive, who has led the group for 16 years, said, “When I had the honor of being selected to lead this great organization in 2002, I vowed that on my watch, for the first time in our history, we would have a thoughtful, well-planned and collegial transition. With a little more than a year remaining on my current contract, I've decided that this is an appropriate time to deliver on that promise.” 

Portnow, who is the longest-serving president in the Recording Academy's 60-year history, weathered heavy criticism from the music industry earlier this year when he said women should "step up" if they want to be better represented in the business. He made the now-infamous comments on January 28th following the 60th Grammy Awards in New York City, after reporters asked him to comment on the fact that only one woman, Alessia Cara, presented a solo Grammy in the show that night. Women need to “step up because I think they would be welcome,” Portnow replied. “I think it’s upon us, us as an industry, to make the welcome mat very obvious.” 

The furor was swift. By February 1st, a group of senior female industry executives had penned a letter calling for him to step down, even though Portnow apologized for not being “as articulate as I should have been” and the Recording Academy announced a new initiative to, in its own words, “overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community.” Artists including P!nk, Charli XCX, Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry criticized the executive’s words, and a petition for Portnow’s resignation garnered more than 30,000 signatures. 

Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich tells Rolling Stone that he is saddened to end the “remarkable relationship” he and Portnow have had for the last decade, and that he believes Portnow’s response was misinterpreted amid a changing social climate. “There’s no question in my mind that his remarks had some effect on what’s happening now,” Ehrlich says. “In terms of the current climate and the response from the Academy, I think they’re very sincere in wanting to address the issues that became much more evident following the show.”

More recently, Portnow has also been in the news for allegedly steering money away from MusiCares, the Recording Academy’s charity that gives emergency medical, financial and personal assistance to artists in need, to cover money lost from the expensive production of the 2018 Grammy Awards. Neither Portnow nor the organization have commented publicly on the accusations.

The Recording Academy will have a new leader when Portnow’s term expires in July 2019.